The British decision to end its decade-long boycott of Narendra Modi speaks volumes of how human rights are so easily sacrificed at the altar of commerce

In the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament, Judas Iscariot agreed he would hand over Jesus to the priests for 30 pieces of silver. Last week when the British government agreed to embrace Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, it should have lent an ear to one of its own citizens, Yusuf Dawood of West Yorkshire, two of whose brothers were lynched by a rampaging mob in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Saeed Dawood, 42 at the time, and Sakil Dawood, 37 at the time, were travelling to Surat along with Mohammed Aswat and Imran Dawood on February 28, 2002, when their car was attacked by a mob about 70 km from Ahmedabad. All four were British citizens.

Aswat’s body was found alongside Imran Dawood in a field, but at least Imran was alive. He was flown back to the United Kingdom, while Aswat was buried in a village near Surat. The other two went missing, but a month later in March, DNA from bone fragments found in an abandoned factory supposedly near the site of the attack was matched to a sample from Saeed Dawood’s mother.

The Andhra Pradesh Forensic Science Laboratory, in a report to the British High Commission on May 8, 2002, concluded that Saeed Dawood had been killed by a mob. The BBC reported last week that “an internal British report at the time (had) described the violence as pre-planned with the support of the state government.”

Clearly, the David Cameron-led government has now decided that 10 years is long enough in the life of a nation to wipe the tears from the eyes of one of its own — and move on.

In the spotlight

The British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire didn’t forget to pay lip service to Dawood and his friends killed in Gujarat 10 years ago, when he commanded the British High Commissioner to India to visit Gujarat and meet Modi. “This will allow us to discuss a wide range of issues of mutual interest and to explore opportunities for closer cooperation...The U.K. 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...” Swire said.

Perhaps, the fact of being condemned to lowly economic growth, between 1-1.5 per cent since the recession kicked in four years ago, is enough to alchemise your principles; and, all the big names, from Ratan Tata to Mukesh Ambani and even Amitabh Bachchan have been successfully wooed by Narendra Modi, so why should the British be left behind?

Modi has recently returned from Japan where he was treated like a prime minister-in-waiting. The Gujarat investment summit in 2013 lists the Australia India Business Council, the U.S. India Business Council and the Japan External Trade Organisation as partners.

It’s clear the U.K. is just about broke — remember the furore some months ago when Britain lost the $11 billion contract to sell 126 fighter jets to India to the Europeans? — and seems ready to sacrifice human rights at the altar of common commerce. Maybe it will now stop meddling in Kashmir?

December elections

More than likely, the British move on the eve of the Gujarat elections in December, is meant to anoint itself as one of Modi’s cheerleaders, since he is expected to win the vote hands down; all that remains to be seen is the margin of victory, and if this is respectably large, then not even the naysayers inside the Bharatiya Janata Party today can deny him his move to Delhi as prime ministerial candidate for 2014.

The British can then say to their friends and allies the Americans who continue to hold out, that we were there first. The irony is that London is reaching out to Modi within weeks of the jailing of one of his closest aides, Maya Kodnani, for 28 years for her role in the Naroda Patiya riots in which 97 people were killed.

Suffice to say Britain’s got it all wrong. This is a common problem with former powers who somehow fail to read the present correctly. Even if Narendra Modi wins the elections in December, his fourth after the Gujarat pogrom, the fact is that India is changing. Yusuf Dawood may have been betrayed by his own government, but India will remember and one day, avenge the injustice.

(Jyoti Malhotra is a Delhi-based journalist.)

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