New Delhi: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi on Monday met British High Commissioner to India, James Bevan in Ahmedabad. Experts opine that the meeting could be the start of the rehabilitation of the controversial Gujarat politician's image in the West. Diplomatic ties between the UK and Gujarat were strained after the 2002 Gujarat riots in which 3 British nationals were killed. British officials were banned from meeting with Modi. The US still has a travel ban on him.
Sources said Bevan has pitched for strong trade and investment ties with Gujarat and improved contact between Britain and the people of Gujarat. Science and Technology and education are potential areas of co-operation. Bevan is also believed to have raised the 2002 riots in the context of justice for the 3 British victims. Today's discussions are expected to lead to official British presence at next year's Vibrant Gujarat summit. Bevan will also meet the Gujarat Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia, the state Governor and civil society representatives during this visit.
Earlier, the British government asked its envoy to India, James Bevan, to visit Gujarat and meet Modi and other senior figures in the state to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest, explore opportunities for closer cooperation and secure "justice for the families of the British nationals killed in 2002".
"Der aaye, durasta aaye (Better late than never)!! I welcome UK govt's step for active engagement & strengthening relations with Gujarat. God is Great," Modi had tweeted, reacting to Britain's Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire's statement.
Earlier in a statement here, Swire said he has asked the British High Commissioner in New Delhi to visit Gujarat. "This will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation, in line with the British Government's stated objective of improving" bilateral ties with India, he said.
"The UK has a broad range of interests in Gujarat. We want to secure justice for the families of the British nationals who were killed in 2002. We want to support human rights and good governance in the state. "We also want to provide the best possible support to British nationals who live in, work in or visit Gujarat; and to the many Gujaratis who now make up one of the most successful and dynamic communities in the UK," he said.
As part of its commitment to strengthen ties with India, the UK has an interest "in ensuring that we provide a full and consistent range of services across the whole country. "I feel that active engagement will help further these interests. We will consider in the light of the high commissioner's visit how best to take forward our relationship with Gujarat," Swire said.
Lord Swraj Paul, leading NRI industrialist welcomed the British government's decision, saying it was long overdue. "Modi is a democratically-elected leader of Gujarat, not once but twice. I am glad that the British government has decided to engage with the Gujarat chief minister," Paul said.
Post-Godhra riots, the UK took a policy decision not to have active engagement with Gujarat. Modi, since 2003, has not visited Britain.
(With additional inputs from PTI)