Priti Patel is the first woman of Indian origin to be in the British Cabinet as Minister for Employment, and has been Prime Minister David Cameron’s representative on diaspora as well as his point person on India. On Friday, she accompanied Mr. Cameron and Prime Minister Modi to the Wembley stadium diaspora event that saw a crowd of atleast 40,000, the biggest such address to the British Indian community. Ms. Patel spoke to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar about the event and the key takeaway from PM Modi’s visit at Wembley.
British Prime Minister Cameron came to introduce Prime Minister Modi to the audience at Wembley…that would seem unusual normally, for a PM to introduce another, tell us why he did?
Well to be fair, not many heads of state have the chance to address a crowd at Wembley. I think you should put this in the context of David Cameron’s personal interest in India, he has been there 3-4 times before. He has made India his number 1 country of focus. There is also a very personal relationship developed between PM Cameron and PM Modi, they’ve met several times in the past year. I think this entire visit and the Wembley event and PM Cameron’s work in India is an indicator of the depth of the relationship. Over the past 3 days I’ve seen up close how much closer the two PM’s have become.
What do we make of the way the British press has played the visit, as it seems to be less about the bilateral, more about Mr. Modi’s past?
I don’t think they actually understand the new India, and they have missed out on the real depth and real substance of the visit. The new India that is emerging that the PM speaks about. I think they have failed to understand that India has really moved on (from Mr. Modi’s past), and trivialised the voice and strength of the British Indian community as well. I genuinely believe the British media has never been focused on the Indian community, that’s why they have been able to ignore them now too.
Beyond the optics, what is the future of India-UK ties…it would seem there’s been great chemistry, but not as much substance?
I completely disagree with that. I have spent two years developing PM Cameron’s government’s relationship with India, and working on the new vision and the new economic partnership, which by the way, cannot happen overnight.
I am afraid the media looks at everything in a very binary way, that it is either a trade deal here or a deal there, and forget about the people side of it all.
So what is the big takeaway of the visit?
I think the big takeaway of the visit is the people to people ties. PM Modi has come to Wembley tonight to address the Indian diaspora community here in the United Kingdom, and the welcome he received you can see was phenomenal. Mr. Cameron is acutely aware of the strength of the Indian diaspora community, their success and contribution. That is what binds our two countries together, and I think the success of our two peoples will lead to success in our economic relationship as well.