British Asians defend Cameron legacy

David Cameron with Narendra Modi
David Cameron with Narendra Modi

British Asians have vowed they will protect David Cameron’s legacy as “Britain’s greatest prime minister” of recent decades.

They made this pledge as political malcontents and the former prime minister’s enemies inside the Conservative party and far right lobbies sought to disparage his achievements.

But the view that is likely to prevail in international circles is that of British Indians, since it is shared and enthusiastically endorsed by all sections of political opinion in India, the largest democracy in the world.

The latter is partly a reflection of the fact that Cameron, who resigned as prime minister on June 24 and is now standing down as the Conservative member of parliament for the Oxfordshire seat of Witney with immediate effect, is seen as a loyal friend of India.

A former Indian high commissioner in the UK, who now heads a foreign affairs think tank in India, confided to Eastern Eye: “The Indian government considers David Cameron to be its best friend.”

Among Indians in the UK, there is a consensus across the political spectrum that Cameron has been a progressive and reforming prime minister.

Cameron, who turns 50 next month, was elected as an MP in 2001 and Tory party leader in 2005 when he promptly announced he wanted a “special relationship” with India.

Lord Dolar Popat, who served in Cameron’s last government as a junior minister and also as a trade envoy to Uganda and Rwanda, explained why he considered Cameron “one of our nation’s finest politicians”.

Popat said: “In regards to the British Indian community, he has helped to reshape how we vote; with the 2015 general elections seeing – for the first time – a majority of British Indians voting Conservative.”

The peer spoke of “the element in his personality that so clearly attracted the British Indian community. The values that David Cameron spoke of and embodied – a good education for all children, an entrepreneurial economy, and seeing faith as a strength in society – were the same values our community holds most dear.

“He welcomed people from less traditional backgrounds into the party, including myself. He promoted Shailesh Vara and Priti Patel to leading roles and encouraged Tory selection panels to be more representative of 21st century Britain and select more ethnic minority candidates.”

“But his changes weren’t cosmetic,” Popat said. “Rather he set about engaging with the British Indian community in a way no other Conservative leader had done before.

“I remember arranging for him to visit [Indian spiritual leader] Morari Bapu’s katha at Wembley Arena in 2010 – the reception he received from the 10,000 strong crowd was rapturous.

“Similar visits occurred to other temples, including the one at Neasden in north London. He introduced annual Diwali and Vaisakhi receptions at Number 10, and went out of his way to record messages for both that always went viral.

“He launched the Conservative Friends of India, an organisation that I was proud to be the first chairman of, and hit the news around the world when Neela Hai Aasman, the first Hindi campaign song in British political history, gathered supporters everywhere.

“It was under his premiership that Narendra Modi visited Britain, culminating in that terrific event at Wembley Stadium. And it was David Cameron’s government that arranged for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi to permanently reside in the heart of British politics, in Parliament Square.”

The Labour peer Meghnad Desai, who raised funds for the Gandhi statue, said: “He will be remembered for many things. He changed the Conservative party from a nasty to a huggable party. He won the 2015 election to bring them back to power as a majority party for the first time after 24 years. He was liberal enough to support gay marriage.

“But he will also be remembered as a good friend of India. He visited India frequently and cultivated warm contacts with them at home. (His wife) Samantha braved the sari often. Yet his best legacy will be the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square, which will be a permanent reminder of British India connections.”

The businessman Dr Rami Ranger called Cameron’s departure from the Commons the “end of an era”.

“He will be remembered as a dynamic, charismatic prime minister who fought for British interests with zeal and determination,” said Dr Ranger.

“He had a special love for Indians and India. He went out of the way to connect with the British Indian community by visiting temples and gurdwaras frequently. He celebrated Diwali and Vaisakhi at No 10 each year to show his love for the Indian community. His wife even wore a sari with pride at many occasions.”

Dr Ranger predicted that history will judge him kindly. “He brought a new dawn for Indo-British relations. He visited India on four occasions, more than any other British leader, as he could see the synergy between two great countries. He welcomed Modiji to Britain in style and accorded his guest great honour when he spoke in Hindi at Wembley. It is fair to say that he gave a totally new dimension to Indo-British relations and as a result, India is looking more like a strategic partner than a mere customer.”

Cameron set out his vision for this relationship in Bangalore on 28 July 2010 on his first visit as prime minister.

“I am a new prime minister, I lead a new coalition government, and we are making a new start for Britain and its relationships around the world,” he said. “I want to take the relationship between India and Britain to the next level. I want to make it stronger, wider, and deeper.

“To show how serious I am, I have brought with me the biggest visiting delegation of any British prime minister in recent years,” he said. “But this isn’t just about Britain and India; this is a relationship that can benefit the world.”

He got into trouble with the Pakistan lobby when he answered a question on terrorism: “We should be very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong and stable and democratic Pakistan, but we cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able in any way to promote the export of terror, whether to India or whether to Afghanistan, or anywhere else in the world.”

It was Cameron who decided to install a Gandhi statue in Parliament Square. At the unveiling on March 14 last year, he said that “in putting Gandhi in this famous square we are giving him an eternal home in our country …this statue celebrates the incredibly special friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest.”

In a candid interview last year, Keith Vaz, then at the height of his power after being re-elected chairman of the home affairs select committee, told Eastern Eye: “David Cameron – I single him out as a political leader in the last 10 years who has really gone firmly out and said ethnic minority people are part of the political mainstream.”

“I have always maintained that the only way we’re going to become part of the mainstream is that all the political parties accept that we are, and the last bastion of that was the Conservative party,” added Vaz.

“And the people who have most moved on this are David Cameron and Andrew Feldman. They have done what no other leader of the Conservative party, what no other chairman of the Conservative party, have ever done.”