Labour loss is relief for Delhi

Talks between Jeremy Corbyn and Narendra Modi
Talks between Jeremy Corbyn and Narendra Modi

By Amit Roy
Corbyn stand on Kashmir and Sikhs rankles India

This is not speculation – prime minister Narendra Modi government and Indian officialdom in general were relieved that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn didn’t win the general election.

This is a far cry from the days when the Indian government had a natural affinity for the Labour Party. After all Clement Attlee, who replaced Winston Churchill as prime minister after the Second World War, agreed that India should be given its freedom and sent Lord Mountbatten to Delhi in early 1947 to preside over the transfer of power. That the holocaust of partition followed is another story.

Both (Labour prime ministers) Tony Blair and Gordon Brown got on well with (Congressman) Dr Manmohan Singh. But there has been no special relationship between the Congress Party in India and Labour in the UK since the days of Michael Foot in the early 1980s.

Delhi was not overjoyed with the Labour party manifesto which said: “We will also urge negotiations towards a political resolution in all other regions currently experiencing conflict, including Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.”

“Labour remains committed to an independent inquiry into Britain’s military role in the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar,” it also pledged.

A senior Indian source summed up angrily that had Corbyn tried to follow up on Kashmir or Operation Blue Star, “it would have led to a rupture in relations”.

Indians see Kashmir as a bilateral issue in which the UK, US or any other country has no role – a policy with which successive Conservative governments have concurred. Realistically, there is also not much the UK can do. Pakistan, of course, has always wanted to internationalise the dispute.

The question of what happened in the Punjab during the Khalistan movement, leading to Operation Blue Star – the Indian army’s assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 in an attempt flush out militants – and  Indira Gandhi’s subsequent assassination, is a sensitive one.

Dr Rami Ranger is a Tory but as chairman of the British Sikh Association, he said: “There is no point in reopening old wounds. All this was a long time ago and we should move on. Jeremy Corbyn is playing politics.”

Corbyn wanted Modi banned from Britain but met him when the Indian prime minister came to the UK in November 2015. British Indian voters will have to make up their minds about whether Corbyn should become prime minister.

But many of them – especially Gujaratis – may take their line from Modi and would prefer that he didn’t. Theresa May is a weakened prime minister after failing to get a majority but strictly from India’s point of view, she remains the better bet.

Calm before the storm

Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the former skipper of the Indian cricket team, was often referred to as “Captain Cool” for his ability to remain calm under pressure.

The description is also apt for Mithali Raj, the 34-year-old captain of the Indian women’s cricket team who has performed consistently with the bat during the 18 years she has played for her country.

In comparison with the men, the women get very little publicity but Mithali attracted a great deal of attention last Saturday (24).

This was not for the 71 she scored against England at Derby in the ICC Women’s World Cup opener which India won. This was her seventh successive fifty, which is a record for one day international cricket for women.

What was trending on Twitter was the fact the cameras had caught her calmly reading a book on the boundary’s edge before she went out to bat.

The book was The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks, she revealed at the post match interview, referring to the 13th century Persian mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī.

“Since Kindle is not allowed, so I had to borrow books from the fielding coach and he gave me this book by Rumi on life’s essentials, so I was just reading that,” said Mithali.

Mithali Raj awaits her turn.

“I am into reading a lot,” she confided. “Even before getting into batting I am always with Kindle or books because it calms me down as well as and I don’t get those jitters (ahead of) just getting into batting.”

Rumi (30 September 1207 – 17 December 1273)  “was arguably the greatest Sufi mystic of all time,” said Lady Mohini Kent Noon, who co-produced a play, Rumi: Unveil the Sun, with her mother, Amrit Kaur, in London in 2007 to mark the 800th anniversary of the poet’s birth.

As to the soothing effect that Rumi might have had on Mithali, Mohini explained: “Rumi’s poetry transcends space and time because it came out of truth. And his words are an expression of his own spiritual realisation. They are so powerful because truth is eternal – it is the truth of our being.”

Mithali had already made her mark the previous night at the dinner on the eve of the ICCWomen’s World Cup.

Asked to name her favourite male cricketer, she asked: “Do you ask the same question to a male cricketer? Do you ask them who their favourite female cricketer is?”

Perhaps for a start, the Indian media should stop referring to the women’s team, patronisingly, as “Eves”. Let us not forget that in the men’s recent final at the Oval, it was the Indian Adams who got soundly thrashed by Pakistan.

Sehbai and the Reform

Daljit Sehbai was eminently “clubbable”, one reason why he loved the Reform Club and enjoyed holding committee meetings there when he was president last year of the Indian Journalists’ Association.

The Reform Club was completed in 1841 by Charles Barry.

The French author Jules Verne famously used the Reform as the starting point for Phileas Fogg’s £20,000 wager placed with fellow members that he could go Around the World in 80 days.

In the 1956 film adaptation, which won five Oscars, Fogg was played by David Niven and Princess Aouda, the “daughter of a Bombay Parsi merchant” rescued by the Englishman from sati, by Shirley MacLaine (in those days, white actresses would “brown up” to play Indian women).

I, for one, will miss Daljit, as will the IJA. As its treasurer for several years, he was meticulous with its accounts. His many friends will remember him as a “lovely man”.

Priti for PM?

Just how much England has changed is obvious from the speculation that Priti Patel could be a candidate for the next Tory leader.

The scenario is that when the time comes for Theresa May to step down, the choice will fall not on David Davies (who was beaten, after all, by a youthful David Cameron in 2006) or Boris Johnson but on the MPs who were elected in 2010.

Priti Patel, Britain’s Secretary of State for International Development arrives for a cabinet meeting at Downing Street.

It does not help Priti that she has been identified in this manner.

Everyone seems pretty certain that May will not lead the Tories into the next election. My own guess is that she failed to win a majority because she lost a significant portion of the Indian vote. For now it is best for Britain she sees Brexit through. After that, let’s take another call.

Pandora’s box

Poor Alok Sharma.

When he was moved from the Foreign Office to the department of communities and local government as housing minister under Sajid Javid – a Pakistani and an Indian working harmoniously together (we hope) – the Grenfell Tower tragedy had not happened.

That has opened a Pandora’s Box.

Hundreds of residential blocks throughout the country are likely to be declared unsafe and their occupants tipped out into emergency accommodation.

Forget the cladding. It is worth recognising that at a sufficiently high temperature, everything is inflammable.

Just one small (not so small actually) question. What is going to happen to the pets?