With the United Kingdom reaching out to Gujarat and chief minister Narendra Modi in a big way, commerce was clearly on their mind. British foreign office minister Hugo Swire on Wednesday praised Gujarat’s growth after what he termed as an “extremely good discussion” with Modi in Gandhinagar earlier in the day.
The junior minister in UK foreign office was in town to witness signing of the LNG supply deal at Mahatma Mandir between GSPC and UK-headquartered BG Group. Swire is the first minister from UK, or for that matter perhaps from any European country, to meet Modi in the last 10 years.
“My visit today has been the logical next step since our decision to re-engage with the democratically-elected leadership of this important state,” Swire said after the 30-minute-long meeting with Modi.
Even as he affirmed that “relations with Gujarat are speedily moving in the right direction”, he evaded a direct reply on Modi’s visa issue or the CM visiting UK anytime soon. He dismissed it saying these things are decided on an individual basis. Instead, he focused on the importance of increasing trade with India and, therefore, it made “logical sense to be engaged with your (Gujarat) part of the world”.
“Bilateral trade between India and UK is about £16 billion and we are looking at doubling it in years to come. UK’s relations with Gujarat are moving at a pretty fast pace in the right direction. He (CM) is very determined that we should increase trade between Gujarat and UK. The CM and his team are very ambitious. The BG contract is not a one-off contract; we are looking at many more. This is just a flavour of the way in which we are approaching Gujarat. We think it’s an extraordinarily exciting state, the growth happening here is enviable, especially if you are sitting in Europe. You have a stable administration which wants to deliver things speedily. We feel the British companies are well placed to serve some of the needs the CM has articulated,” Swire said.
In addition to trade and commerce, the British minister said they had also spoken to Modi about their continuing interest in the human rights situation, particularly the protection of minorities and safety of women.
“Family member of one of the British national victims of 2002 is coming to see me. We know that the court case will be coming up soon now and we welcome it. We spoke about the Jewish and Christian communities here and how he sees Gujarat as a place that embraces people regardless of their religion. The chief minister listened to us carefully and he also spoke about the situation of minorities and what the state government was doing for them,” Swire said addressing the media on Wednesday afternoon.
Later in the day, Swire met Congress leaders Shankersinh Vaghela and briefly met Arjun Modhwadia at the airport. Both Vaghela and Modhwadia said it was a courtesy call to update them about the GSPC-BG deal and “generally discussed politics”. Swire also met some local NGOs later.
After nearly a decade-long embargo on diplomatic engagement with Modi because of the 2002 communal riots, UK ambassador James Bevan met the Gujarat chief minister just days before the 2012 Assembly elections last year. Also, a delegation from UK attended the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in January.