New Delhi: After meeting Narendra Modi, British High Commissioner to India, James Bevan, on Monday said that the talks with the Gujarat Chief Minister were not an endorsement of any person, but an engagement with the state. The UK High Commissioner clarified that engagement with Gujarat is in Britain's trade interest, saying we can't ignore Gujarat when we want stronger ties with India.
"We want to support British nationals travelling and working in Gujarat and Gujaratis in UK. Talks with the Gujarat government were open and positive. We discussed how UK can play a role in development in Gujarat. We discussed human rights and development," the British envoy said in a press conference. "UK government wish to get justice for three British Nationals and victims of 2002 Godhra riots. We can't ignore Gujarat when Britain wants stronger ties with India. We want to actively engage with Modi government," he added.
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 said he raised the 2002 riots in the context of justice for the 3 British victims. "2002 was ten years ago, and lots of things have happened since then. This is engagement with Gujarat and not endorsement of any one person. We hope the 2002 riots case will proceed with speed. UK government will support any help needed. We will continue to raise Human Rights issues with the government of Gujarat. We have no intention of interfering in Gujarat election. We are taking no political position," he said.
Bevan also ruled out Britan's intention to interfere in the coming Gujarat elections. "Since we believe that engagement was the right thing, we thought better we engage now. We have no intention of interfering in any way in Gujarat elections," he said.
Earlier, the British government had asked 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 news. Post-Godhra riots, the UK took a policy decision not to have active engagement with Gujarat. Modi, since 2003, has not visited Britain.