• Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Conservative Friends of India co-chairs seek to engage with new generation

(Photo: iStock).

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Amit Roy

THE work of the Conservative Friends of India (CFI) in trying to strengthen links with British Indians – and with India – has been explained to Eastern Eye by the organisation’s co-chairs, Ameet Jogia and Reena Ranger.

They took over in March this year from CFI’s previous co-chairs, Rami Ranger and Zac Goldsmith, who have both been made peers. “We were appointed by the party chairman (Amanda Milling) – and the decision was approved by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson,” said Jogia.

His co-chair said: “I’m sure people know me because I’m Rami’s daughter, and that there’s good advantage in being known or getting my foot in the door. But ultimately, once you’re there, you also have to prove yourself to be worthy of the task at hand.”

Ranger, who has been founder and chair of “Women Empowered” and has also been a councillor since 2014 in Three Rivers District in Hertfordshire, added: “Ameet and I still had to be appointed. I hope people have faith in what Ameet and I have done or are doing and thought we would be able to do a good job.”

Jogia and Ranger were appointed after initial analysis of British Indian voting trends in last December’s general elec­tion. Jogia, who is a councillor in Harrow and has been aide to Lord Dolar Popat for 10 years, said: “We’re still waiting for official figures to come out. But some surveys found that the over 50s certainly voted Conservative overwhelmingly. Why I think they appointed Reena and me to engage with the younger genera­tion of British Indians is because they weren’t quite in the bag.

“We had the whole Kashmir debate last year – and Corbyn stance on that reso­nated with the older generation much more than the new generation of British-born Indians. They’re more concerned with mainstream issues such as the econ­omy, the NHS, health and education.”

When Eastern Eye spoke to Ranger, she was encouraging a woman to stand for a council seat. “It’s most definitely about engagement,” she said, stressing that the negative perception Indians once had of the Conservative party had “most defi­nitely changed”.

“Ameet and I are trying to bring strong­er links between the Conservative Party and the British Indian community and with India,” Ranger continued. “We have policy forums to try and see how things affect our members. We do try and get people to engage, whether that’s stand­ing for local government, national gov­ernment, and understanding more about the party and what it’s doing.”

Since she and Jogia took over, CFI has held Zoom meetings with the chancellor Rishi Sunak, the business secretary Alok Sharma, and most recently with Saqib Bhatti, the new MP for Meriden. The home secretary Priti Patel has promised to attend early next year. “Every month we have a big cabinet minister,” said Jogia.

Sunak, who attracted 500 members, was a big draw at the CFI Diwali party.

Ranger added: “Our membership is free. You just need to put your email ad­dress in the ‘get involved section’ on the CF India website. We put all our events on Facebook and we put the Eventbrite link so you don’t have to be a Conservative party member. Once you put your email address, you get emailed all the events.”

As the modern face of the new Tory party, Jogia’s own upbringing could not have been less privileged. His parents, Narottam and Hansa, arrived from Tan­zania in the early 1970s when Indians were being expelled from Uganda.

“My father set up as newsagent in Cricklewood in London,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, we fell on hard times, and he went bankrupt. I have been homeless as a child. They lost everything, everything they invested, including the gold they had, every single asset, so they worked hard to rebuild themselves. I grew up on a council estate – I only moved out last year.

Jogia, an only son, was born in London on 9 January 1987, attended Hatch End High School in Harrow and read politi­cal geography at King’s College Lon­don. He said: “My parents taught me the value of work hard – carry on. They never complained. It’s only now that I cherish those values as a new father myself. We were lucky with what little we had.”

Last year was especially traumatic. “My father and my mother passed away within six months of each other. They were 74 which I think in this day and age is quite young. They were fit and healthy. They’d never been to hospital or had any underlying issues.

“My father had a type of blood cancer – he was ill for a year. My mother was diagnosed with mouth cancer three weeks after my father passed away. She didn’t smoke or drink. None of that. But it was stage four. Within less than six months she passed away.”

Jogia had been shortlisted for two Tory seats – Ruislip, North­wood and Pin­ner, and for Wat­ford – but wasn’t picked for either. “It was one interview the day before my mum passed away. And the other interview was the day of my mum’s funeral.”

He and Ranger hope they will be picked next time.

Jogia said he is grateful for “the tre­mendous opportunities that Britain has given to British Indians in recent years.”

He is not keen on harking back to the darkness of the colonial past: “I am talk­ing about the last 50 or 60 years. So many came here penniless; they gave us jobs, they gave us education. We’ve integrated. What we have in this country, perhaps we never had in India.”

That said, Ranger said colonial history should be made a compulsory part of the school curriculum. She said she took as a guiding principle something that Maya Angelou, the black American author and civil rights activist, had once said about the past: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Referring to the National Trust’s 115-page report on the colonial links of its properties, Ranger said CFI could play a role in bringing together people with opposing views.

“The National Trust report is out in the public domain,” she said. “It’s not going to be retracted or anything like that, hushed up in any way. Every­body has a different view. And all those views and all those opinions together create the debate. And that debate is healthy. I think peo­ple need to talk to each other and understand why people come from different viewpoints, what their fears are, what their anxieties are. If you suppress conversations, if you sup­press debate, I don’t think our conversation is any richer nor is our growth as a people or a society.”

Eastern Eye

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