British High Commissioner to India James Bevan on Monday called on Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in Gandhinagar, a move being viewed as the first initiative by the United Kingdom to end the decade-long disconnect with the State since the 2002 communal riots.
Mr. Bevan, who later paid a courtesy call to Governor Kamala Beniwal, besides meeting State Congress president Arjun Modhvadia, was with Mr. Modi for about an hour discussing a wide range of issues where Britain could get engaged with Gujarat in the fields of trade, commerce and industry.
The meeting was cordial and both sides showed keen interest in taking the engagement forward, sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said.
Later Mr. Bevan held a media conference here where he pointed out that while his country was now looking at enhancing ties with Gujarat, it would continue to seek justice for the three Britons killed in the 2002 riots, which had caused the end of the relations between the British government and Gujarat.
Mr. Bevan said Mr. Modi had assured justice to the deceased.
The visit of Mr. Bevan, who was only last week directed by the Foreign Office in London to engage with Mr. Modi, is being considered a shot in the arm for the Chief Minister who would be facing the Assembly elections in just about seven weeks. The High Commissioner, however, said Britain had no intention of interfering with the electoral process and he was confident that his visit would not sway Gujarat voters in any way.
Britain, along with the United States, had denied visa to Mr. Modi in the aftermath of the 2002 riots holding him responsible for the violation of human rights.
Mr. Bevan’s call on Mr. Modi therefore attracted serious attention as this was widely being viewed as Britain’s endorsement of the Chief Minister which can significantly alleviate his status as persona non grata across the countries in the European Union and most importantly the U.S. Mr. Bevan, however, made it clear that while the U.K. had taken a policy decision on its own, each country in the EU was free to take its own decision regarding Mr. Modi and Gujarat.
The envoy said a lot had changed since 2002 as Gujarat had emerged as one of the most developed States of the country and when Britain was looking forward to deepen its engagement with India, Gujarat could not be ignored. He pointed out that with the judicial process to bring the culprits of 2002 to justice having already taken off, Britain had decided to re-engage with Gujarat even while attaching great importance to human rights and the rights of the minorities across the world. As a matter of fact, he said, he had also met some human rights activists and discussed with them his meeting with Mr. Modi.
The High Commissioner said he had accepted Mr. Modi’s invitation and Britain would participate in the Vibrant Gujarat investors’ summit to be held in January 2013.
“Only a courtesy call”
Minister of State for Railways Bharat Solanki, however, told journalists in Vadodara that there was no meaning in attaching any significance to Mr. Bevan’s courtesy call to Mr. Modi though the Chief Minister “as per his characteristics” would try to “make a big noise” over the issue to make people count it as “one of his great achievements.”