HAND IN HAND
OUR INDIAN LINK
THIS WEEK marks one of the most significant moments in the short history of the Indian diaspora in Britain, as our annual Diwali celebrations coincide with the first visit to the UK by the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
For the 1.5 million British Indians, this is a tremendous opportunity not only to rejoice the victory of light over dark that Diwali honours, but also to celebrate India’s growing status in the world.
More importantly, it also gives us a chance to consider how far we’ve come as a community since we arrived in Britain. It seems an appropriate moment to thank those who have helped us along the way.
When the British Indian community — particularly those of us who were viciously evicted from East Africa — arrived here, we were penniless, somewhat downhearted and in need of inspiration. It came in the form of the Jewish community — where you led, we have followed.
Many — if not most — of us recognised that, like us, many of the Jewish community arrived in this country with nothing, and were also the victims of prejudice. Yet Jews had succeeded in building a better life for themselves and their family. I hope you won’t mind that we have tried to emulate the same successful formula.
Over the past 40 years it has become clear that there is much in common between the British Indian and Jewish communities. We share the same values: aspiration, hard work, a belief in enterprise, a dedication to education, the importance of faith, family, philanthropy and community, and perhaps most importantly, the importance of integrating into wider society.
You have helped us in so many ways. When I started discussions in the Hindu community about securing more political representation for the community, the Board of Deputies was on hand to offer advice and support. From developing our community structures to fostering business deals, the Jewish community has been a great friend to the British Indian community.
Our commonality of purpose has also been mirrored on a much larger scale. India and Israel are now firm allies, with bilateral trade approaching the $5 billion mark. That figure is likely to be considerably more when the free-trade agreement is completed.
Beyond trade, the India-Israel relationship has broadened considerably Women at a festival at a Hindu temple in London. The community has strong ties to Anglo-Jewry, while India is forging new links with Israel since 1992, with regular co-operation on defence and security matters. This sort of strategic partnership between two democratic nations is exactly what Britain should be looking to emulate when Prime Minister Modi arrives for his visit.
Last month the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, visited Israel, the first Indian head of state to do so. In a sign of Israel’s considerable importance to India, he is expected to be followed before the end of the year by Prime Minister Modi.
Undoubtedly, what we have experienced on a smaller scale in the UK, with our shared values and mutual admiration, is now helping to underpin a vital diplomatic alliance. It is in the UK’s interests to ensure we not only support this friendship, but also look to join it.
Our three countries face similar threats to our freedom from terrorists. We are all great ambassadors for democracy and the rule of law. And all three countries are looking to develop economic policies along similar lines.
India needs advanced agricultural and water technology — where Israel is strong — as well as stronger access to finance, where Britain can help. All three countries are making great strides in biomedical technology, and all are home to some of the most exciting internet and software start-ups in the world.
I hope that the first steps towards a more collaborative approach and a three-way partnership starts this week. Modi’s visit, including his address at Wembley Stadium, is an historic moment for our two nations and particularly for British Indians. But we must also take the time to remember those who helped ensure that, in the moments of darkness we experienced when we arrived, light once again proved victorious.
It was former US vice-president Hubert Humphrey who once said: “The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.” The British Indian community has been very fortunate to have the friendship of British Jews, and we are very grateful. May I wish all of you a very happy Diwali. Lord Popat is a Conservative Party whip and former Minister for Business and Transport