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British investigation into Gujarat riots was to address concerns of our constituents: Jack Straw

The Tony Blair government had acted on the representations of citizens of Gujarati Muslim origin, who were worried about their loved ones, says former British Foreign Secretary

January 22, 2023 12:49 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:08 am IST - NEW DELHI

Britain’s then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with then External Affairs Minister in New Delhi on May 29, 2002.

Britain’s then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw with then External Affairs Minister in New Delhi on May 29, 2002. | Photo Credit: PTI

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, in an interview with veteran journalist Karan Thapar of The Wire on BBC documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots, said that the British government conducted an investigation of its own because many citizens of Gujarati Muslim origin were worried about their loved ones in India and “were making representations” to that effect to the then Tony Blair government.

“The simple fact is that in Britain, including in my constituency, there were hundreds of thousands of people from the Indian State of Gujarat, mainly Muslims. There was a lot of concern, and there were also people that I knew whose families were affected by these inter-communal riots directly and they were making representations to us. (This was) one of the reasons why the then High Commissioner ordered this investigation,” Mr. Straw stated as the cause that prompted the unusual investigation.

The former diplomat stated that he had conversations with Indian officials, including the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, regarding the riots.

“I did talk to the Vajpayee government, particularly to my opposite number there, the foreign minister (Jaswant Singh), with whom I had a very good relationship. I am pretty certain that I did that. I should also say that I had been in very good contact and cooperation with the Vajpayee government over the whole of 2002 about the attack on the Lok Sabha in mid-December 2001, which led to a great increase in tensions across the Line of Control,” he said in response to a question during the interview.

The 29-minute interview with Mr. Straw came days after BBC aired a documentary titled India: The Modi Question, which revealed that the British authorities had ordered an inquiry into the riots as they had found the extent of the violence alarming. This drew a strong response from the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi, who described the reported “inquiry” as “neo-colonial”. Mr. Straw explained that the ripples of the Gujarat riots were felt in the U.K. and that as a result, the then British High Commissioner (Sir Rob Young) ordered an investigation.

During his weekly press briefing on Thursday, Mr. Bagchi questioned the legitimacy and authority of the British officials to conduct an inquiry of their own into the riot that was an internal law and order problem of India. “Just because Jack Straw says it, how does it lend it that much legitimacy? I heard words like inquiry and investigation. There is a reason we used the word colonial mindset. We don’t use words loosely. What inquiry? They were diplomats here. Investigation...are they ruling the country?” he said.

Responding to the comments, Mr. Straw said that Mr. Bagchi is “well versed in history of Britain’s role in India”. He described the colonial administration of India as “racist” and “pretty dreadful” but he also said that Britain’s past involvement with India created a “long-term bond” that changed the “nature of India” and the “nature of Britain”.

“The constituency which I represented, in... textile area of Lancashire — fifty years ago probably about 5% of the population was non-white and today it is 40% and rising. We are forever linked to India,” Mr. Straw said.

“It was nothing about post-colonial. It was everything to do with our constituents,” he said, justifying the investigation.

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