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How 'Friends Of India' In Britain Are Shaping The UK-India Relations

As the dust settles from the fervour of party conferences in the United Kingdom, the spotlight remains on the crucial role of fostering international ties. A pivotal factor has emerged on the British political stage — the Indian heritage of PM Rishi Sunak. This dynamic attribute has the potential to significantly impact UK-India relations, amplifying the influence of both the Conservative Friends of India (CF India) and the Labour Friends of India (LF India) in shaping the future of this crucial partnership.

In the epicentre of British politics, CF India and LF India hold the reins, shaping the UK's connection with India. This political canvas underscores the lasting impact of Indian identity in British corridors of power. The fusion of identity and policy thrusts CF India's and LF India's agendas onto the global spotlight with newfound vigour. Despite differing priorities, both groups rally around pivotal goals. Cultivating people-to-people bonds, through vibrant cultural exchanges and educational ventures, stands tall as a shared pillar of their vision. Moreover, they stand united in championing the pivotal role of diplomatic discourse, pushing for ongoing, high-level dialogues to forge a dynamic, enduring partnership.

After Rishi Sunak assumed office as the prime minister, his inaugural conference as the leader of the Conservative Party underscored the prominence of his Indian heritage in political discussions. This influence was most palpable in the active engagement of the Conservative Friends of India group, of which the PM serves as a patron. Remarkably, this group hosts the highest membership count within the Conservative Party, and consequently, their event garnered the largest attendance at the conference. The reception, co-hosted by the UK's leading business, Pernod Ricard, in collaboration with the Indian High Commission UK, not only attracted the largest audience but was also the one to see the esteemed presence of PM Rishi Sunak and other key figures such as Home Secretary Suella Braverman, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, and Health Secretary Steven Barclay.

Paradigm For Cooperative Diplomacy

In a parallel effort, the Labour Party, as the Conservatives' staunchest adversary, strategically embraced the Indian political identity. While the Labour Friends of India did not stage a grandiose spectacle akin to the Conservatives, they were deeply immersed in the party conference. Notably, the presence of former Union Minister Salman Khurshid at the Labour party conference speaks volumes about the significance Labour attaches to Indian identity. Despite the fervent criticisms levelled by the Conservatives and PM Rishi Sunak towards the Labour Party for not having an Indian-origin PM, it is noteworthy that both Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan have publicly endorsed Rishi Sunak's South Asian heritage.

Nayaz Qazi, Director of Conservative Friends of India, attributes the group's vigour to a dynamic trio comprising Cllr Reena Ranger, Cllr Amit Jogia, and himself. Their diverse backgrounds, representing Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim communities, infuse the group with a vibrant energy. It's this infusion of vitality that propels the group's endeavours forward. Additionally, Nayaz underscores the profound alignment between Conservative Party values and those deeply rooted in Indian culture. Both share a fervent belief in the power of representation, forming a cornerstone of their common ground. This cultural fusion, according to Nayaz, played a significant role in Rishi Sunak's ascent to the esteemed position of PM, highlighting the profound connection between the two nations.

Resonating with this sentiment, Uday Nagaraju, Director of Labour Friends of India, envisions India and the UK as leaders collaborating on global issues, aligning with his party's stance. He emphasises Labour's unwavering support for the aspirations of the Indian community and the broader interests of India-UK relations. Historically, Labour has been a steadfast ally of India, understanding the significance of diverse representation in politics. Nagaraju advocates for the appointment of a significant number of councillors and MPs of Indian and other ethnic origins, which would contribute significantly to the vibrant political landscape of the country. Deputy Mayor of London, Rajesh Agarwal, echoes these sentiments, affirming that India and the UK, as current world leaders, are dedicated to fostering increased cooperation and mutual understanding in the tightly-interwoven geopolitical landscape.

In essence, CF India and LF India serve as linchpins in the foundation of UK-India relations, offering distinct yet complementary approaches. The recent surge in influence witnessed at party conferences underscores their heightened significance in shaping the dynamic engagement between the two nations. PM Rishi Sunak's Indian heritage unites and emphasises the key role of CF India and LF India in this transformative alliance for global cooperation. Together, these organisations constitute the cornerstone of a relationship that not only benefits the immediate stakeholders, but also offers a paradigm for cooperative diplomacy in the broader geopolitical arena.

By Rajesh Mehta & Ashraf Nehal

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