Mr Bob Blackman, MP from Harrow East, the most Indophile politician in the British parliament, returns from his maiden trip to his dreamland India. Bob meets several decision makers in Delhi and visits Jammu & Kashmir to get a first hand experience on the plight of Pandits….writes Asian Lite News
Mr Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament for Harrow East, returned from his 10-day long visit to India. He was joined by his wife and former councillor Nicola Blackman and his aide Lakshmi Kaul, founder of Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK.
Bob is a vocal supporter of India at British parliament. On several occasions, when Indian-origin parliamentarians skip or avoid key India related debates at the House of Commons, Bob religiously defended the official stand of India.
The forum arranged the entire visit with an aim to introduce the region as well as understand the ground reality in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. The timing couldn’t have been better to understand the conflict in the state as it is under Governor’s rule and awaiting the formation of the PDP-BJP coalition state government.
Arriving in Delhi, he first travelled to Srinagar where he was hosted and accompanied by BJP MLC, Surinder Ambardar. Bob offered his prayers at the revered Hindu temple of Goddess Kheerbhawani that is constructed over a sacred spring and is managed and run by the Dharmarth Trust. The worship of Kheer Bhawani is universal among the Hindus of Kashmir. The temple is situated at a distance of 14 miles east of Srinagar near the village of Tul Mul.
A series of meetings were arranged in Srinagar by the host and BJP MLC Surinder Ambardar for Bob wherein he met members across regions and religions, representing the civil society, young lawyers, non-displaced Kashmiri Pandits, recently re-settled Kashmiri Pandits who returned to the valley on the Prime Minister’s resettlement package, young politicians, traders and members of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce.
“I am struck by the sheer beauty of Srinagar and the huge potential the state has for future. It was heartening to see the common aspiration for development and progress for the state among all those I met and interacted with. I am grateful to my friend Surinder Ambardar for arranging for me to meet all the various people from across communities and regions, so that in the short time I was there I gained an insight into the various issues and demands of the people from the region.
“I am impressed by the vision he holds for the state especially the concept of smart cities for the resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits and economic development of the state. Of all the people I met, I was particularly impressed with the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce who brought with them a point wise proposal for investment and future development opportunities for J&K,” says Bob.
In Jammu Bob received a grand welcome by local communities. He visited the Raghunath temple and the archives run by the Trust in the temple premises. “I am impressed by the collection of the archives in the temple library and happy to note that the work to digitise the ancient scriptures is being carried out. I am pleased to note that the support from the British Library is being sought to undertake this useful exercise as also set up a museum to display the key artifacts and scriptures for public viewing”, said Bob.
“When I planned this visit for Bob, I wanted to make sure he meets with not just one or two community groups but a range of different groups across professions, political, regional and religious backgrounds,” said Lakshmi Kaul, founder of KPCS UK who planned and organised Bob’s maiden visit to India.
In a traditional programme organised by the J&K Ex services league and Dogra Sadar Sabha, Bob was welcomed along with Lakshmi Kaul, founder of Kashmiri Pandits Cultural Society UK and Manu Khajuria, Founder of Voice of Dogras as the ‘Daughters of the Soil’ for their contribution to raising the voice of the region in the UK.
Thanking the Dogra Sadar Sabha for their warm welcome Bob said, “I am an honorary Hindu, Bobe ji for Kashmiri Pandits and now an honorary Dogra. I will continue to raise the voice of the region in the British Parliament in correcting the misinformed narrative prevalent in the UK.” There were traditional cultural programmes and Dogra food served at the end of the programme to welcome the visiting guests.
In a programme organised by the Department of History at University of Jammu, Bob had the opportunity to address the students. He urged the student and faculty there to engage in greater research with British universities highlighting the various aspects of the history and cultural heritage of the J&K region. In an interactive session with the students, Bob responded to various questions and comments by the participants.
During his stay in Jammu, Bob met the founder of PDP, Muzaffar Hussain Baigh to gain an insight into the party’s founding and history. He called on the former Deputy Chief Minister, Mr. Nirmal Singh at his residence and spoke extensively about the former PDP BJP alliance led government in the state. He also met with the Indian diplomat and author, G Parthasarthy and retired Vice Air Marshal Kapil Kak.
Bob met and interacted with a number of other intellectuals from the state. He also met displaced Sikh community reps from the PoJK region as well as representatives of the Kashmiri Pandit community who are in the process of resettling in Srinagar.
“It is evident that there is the conscious effort not only by the people but also the Central government to ensure the displaced communities especially Kashmiri Pandits are resettled. However, the concern over their security and well-being remains,” says Bob after his detailed interaction with the diverse group of people from the region.
Leh/Ladakh was mising in the itinerary. ” I couldn’t incorporate Laddakh into this trip owing to shortage of time but do hope to return with a focus on Leh/Laddakh. There is a misinformed narrative in the UK wherein one group gives the impression that people of Kashmir want right of self-determination. It is evident from the interactions and visits over the last 10 days that there is a strong feeling of Nationalism among all the various residents of the region and most of them want to flourish like other states in the country,” Lakshmi told Asian Lite.
In Delhi Bob met with some key ministers and politicians including the National Security Adviser of India, Mr. Ajit Doval, Minister for External Affairs, Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of State for External Affairs, Gen V K Singh, Minister for Science and Technology, Dr Harshvardhan, Minister of Power, Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Mr. Piyush Goyal, parliamentarians including Chief Whip and BJP MP from Bikaner (BJP) Arjun Ram Meghwal and Lawyer and Member of Parliament for New Delhi (BJP) Mrs. Meenakshi Lekhi, BJP MP from Laddakh, Mr. Thupstan Chhewang, Rajya Sabha (Congress) member Dr. Karan Singh and National General Secretary of BJP and Incharge J&K, Mr. Ram Madhav. He also had an extensive meeting and discussion with Dr. Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (MoS) (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Prime Minister Office.
He also called on the Acting British High Commissioner, Dr. Alexander Evans OBE, shared his impressions of the state and discussed concerns over security and travel advisory in the state of J&K for British Nationals. Dr Evans is an authority on J&K and has lived in the region for a number of years during the years of turmoil post 1990. He was also felicitated and welcomed by the All India Kashmiri Samaj, Panun Kashmir, India Foundation and Jammu Kashmir Study Centre at various functions in Delhi.