Gandhinagar: Britain on Monday said its decision to re-engage with Gujarat should not be seen as an endorsement of Chief Minister Narendra Modi, as it ended its decade-long boycott of the state over the 2002 riots.
Seeking to increase opportunities in business and trade with Gujarat, British High Commissioner to India James Bevan met Modi for about 50 minutes after which the envoy said the decision was in UK`s national interest.
Bevan said after the meeting that active engagement with Gujarat was the right way to advance UK`s interest in the state.
"This is engagement with Gujarat and Gujarat as a whole and not an engagement with any single figure," Bevan said.
"I don`t agree with your perception that we are rehabilitating Mr Modi, this engagement is not about endorsement. If we need to engage with some state, we need to engage with the Chief Minister of state and Mr Modi is democratically elected leader of Gujarat," he said.
Bevan was asked what UK government stood to gain from "rehabilitating" the Chief Minister of the BJP-ruled state.
UK had snapped all ties with Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 communal riots in which three British nationals were among the victims.
"Had a great meeting... To strengthen Guj-UK ties in economic and social sectors," Modi said on Twitter after the meeting.
Bevan also asserted that re-engaging with Gujarat is in
UK`s trade interest.
In reply to a question on whether UK will now grant visa to Modi, Bevan said, "This is a hypothetical question as Mr Modi has not applied for any visa. We deal with the visa issue when it comes up on case to case basis".
Though the decision to re-engage with Modi comes just ahead of the legislative assembly elections, Bevan sought to dispel the notion that it would have any effect on the outcome of the polls. Elections are being held in December.
"We have no intentions of interfering in any way in the election which is taking place in Gujarat. Who runs Gujarat is the matter for people of Gujarat to decide. And frankly I think that Gujarat voters are unlikely to be swayed in his or her decision whom to vote for on the basis of a visit of eight hours by the British High Commissioner," he said.
Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Bevan said, "2002 was 10 years ago and in those 10 years many important things have happened. The British government that was elected in 2010 took a decision to deepen and strengthen its relations with India. And if you want to do that you can`t ignore one of the most important states in India, which is Gujarat.
"Also, in those 10 years, state of Gujarat has grown to became more prosperous and more successful. There are very large number of Gujaratis living now in UK, and Gujarat over the 10 years has become more important to UK," he said.
"And in those 10 years legal process has gone forward and has resulted in several convictions and important figures have been found guilty of committing the crime during the 2002 riots including a former member of Gujarat Government," he said, adding "I would also like to say that this is increased engagement not the start of the engagement."
A special SIT court awarded life term to BJP leader and former state minister Maya Kodnani after being convicted in the Naroda Patiya case.