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Straight from Birmingham

Lord Mayor of Birmingham in New Delhi. Photo: Anu Pushkarna.

THAT LORD Mayor John Alden, the Head of the Birmingham City Council, the biggest civic body in Britain, could be broadly deduced from the attention-grabbing regalia he donned. Visibly proud to be in his ceremonial post, councillor Alden, in his maiden visit to India this past week, had also an important official job to do here - forging educational, medical and business links between India and the West Midlands.

And, Birmingham being the hot spot for Indians with about 30 per cent Indian population at present, primarily Punjabi and Gujarati communities who settled there even before the Second World War, the Lord Mayor's nine-day itinerary understandably included trips to Amritsar, Jalandhar, Chandigarh and Jamnagar besides Pune, Goa, a visit to "fascinating" Taj Mahal at Agra and of course his first stop, Delhi.

"My first impression about India in one word is, opportunity. To me, this country also looks like ready for a transition to full development in all fields, something like 19th Century Britain," said this Conservative in his distinctive Brummie accent. Accompanied by an educational delegation including students from the University of Central England, Alden's work took him to "looking at primarily educational prospects" in Punjab along with taking a bow at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Being from the city of 13 gurudwaras, something which even some Indian towns do not have, Alden also took the opportunity to "criticise the French" for the recent legal ban on wearing headgears including turbans worn by Sikhs. Terming his country as "having a more liberal view in Britain," he said after the Council of Faiths came into being in England in 1970s, religious shrines can open any time of the day and night in Birmingham. This also facilitates the Guru Nanak Gurudwara, the biggest in Birmingham, to keep its doors open 24 hours.

Besides meeting Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, members of PHD Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Delhi, Alden had also on schedule, meetings with the Mayor of Jalandhar, "to look at some educational projects" in Chandigarh, visit schools in Jamnagar where student teachers from the University of Central England are studying for a bachelor's degree in primary education, a trip to a trauma centre in Pune whose medical staff was trained in Birmingham to deal with large-scale emergencies, participate in a programme in Goa where members of the West Midlands Fire Service accompanying him, will exchange professional ideas among other engagements.

"Besides university level exchange programmes between all the three universities of Birmingham, I am also keen on school level exchange. One learns so much this way at an early age," he said. Besides mayoral duties, he is also the chancellor of Birmingham's University of Central England, University of Birmingham and Aston University, the home turf of writer Arthur Conan Doyle.


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