INDIAN LINKS to the heart of power in the UK have never before been as strong as they are today. They are being closely watched by Indian diplomats serving under High Commissioner Navtej Sarna who presented his credentials to Queen Elizabeth II last March.
These links come, in the first instance, in the shape of the immensely likeable wife of MP and former London mayor Boris Johnson who is widely tipped to be the next British Prime Minister after the shock result of the EU referendum.
Her name is Marina Wheeler and she is the daughter of former BBC India correspondent Sir Charles Wheeler and his Sikh wife Dip Singh. Singh’s ancestors are from Sargodha in West Punjab who migrated to India after independence. So Marina’s emotional and cultural ties to India are beyond question and they will be still more in evidence if, as expected, Boris takes over in Downing Street.
Boris himself is still remembered for his famous quote, when he said, “My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.” But that has never been taken seriously. He has a good track record as a former London mayor and has good grassroots links with voters who admire his way with words.
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They also respect him for his refusal to be drawn into making vicious personal attacks against his political rivals. By standing aloof from the type of slander campaigns that have been a hallmark of British politics, he has demonstrated another trait that has endeared him to the public.
Despite his obvious popularity, political analysts refuse to rule out alternative choices for leader. They include the gay leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, Home Secretary Theresa May and Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Michael Gove. The dream ticket widely discussed involves a combination of Boris as Prime Minister with Gove as his Deputy.
The other significant Indian link with ruling politicians comes with Conservative Party MP Preeti Patel who currently serves in the cabinet as the Minister of Employment. As her name suggests, she is of Gujarati ethnic origin, the daughter of Ugandan Asians who fled from Africa shortly after Idi Amin took over in Kampala.
The first Hindu woman ever to be elected to the House of Commons, she is an ardent supporter of Narendra Modi and criticised what she described as the BBC’s one-sided coverage critical of Modi in the 2014 Indian general elections. Patel’s critics have highlighted her earlier support for the restoration of capital punishment, as well as a book where she said this about British workers: “once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world”.
What is hugely important about Patel today is that she openly campaigned side by side with those “Brexiters” who wanted the UK to leave the European Union. As such she is a supporter of Boris and now that the Brexiters have won, she has every reason to expect to be rewarded with a significantly more senior cabinet position after a new government is formed following the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron and his imminent departure from British politics.
Other ethnic Indians have served in previous British governments, but none have previously climbed to the dizzying heights of cabinet status. One of those is Aden-born MP for Leicester East Keith Vaz who served for two years as Minister of State in the Foreign Office under a previous Labour government. He has been quoted as saying that the referendum result is “a terrible day for Britain and a terrible day for the EU”.
How Indian links with the UK evolve in coming years will also depend on the skills exercised by the country’s highly respected High Commissioner in London — a former Indian ambassador to Israel and an ex-spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs.
Sarna’s skills include his abilities as a highly respected book author. In London, this means he will be one of the very few foreign ambassadors who will have something in common with Boris — other than politics or diplomacy. Boris is the author of at least 10 books, including a biography of Winston Churchill.