The Best Indian in London is an Englishman. Nobody can break the record set by Bob Blackman at British Parliament. This Englishman fought for India on many fronts. Whether it is visa for Modi; cross-border terrorism in Kashmir; the plight of Pandits; Bob will be the first person to defend India. He is seeking re-election from Harrow East. A special report by Asian Lite News
Bob attended Preston Manor High School in Wembley, where he has lived for much of his life. After graduating from Liverpool University Bob joined BT and remained at the company until he was elected London Assembly Member for Brent and Harrow in 2004. Bob was also member of Brent Council for nearly 24 years. During that time he led the Conservative Group for 20 years and the Council for 5 years.
Bob has been a long term champion of the Indian diaspora and ethnic minorities in the UK. He has remained a strong voice of the British Indians, Bangladeshis, Tamils, Nepalese, Sri Lankans; representing them in the parliament as well as other National and International platforms for over 25 years, including as a Councillor and Leader of the Brent Council nearly two decades before being first elected as the Member of Parliament for Harrow East in 2010 and re-elected to the seat in 2015.
The British Parliament remains a platform that is often being misused by anti-India lobbyists and Bob has been a strong voice opposing this lobby within the Parliament. He has in fact made his support for India very clear via the multiple questions raised and events he has sponsored to promote the pro India lobby. Bob has especially been a supporter of the Hindus and was given the title of Dharma Rakshak by the Hindu organisations earlier this year.
The notorious caste discrimination legislation that was voted in haste by Labour and Liberal Democrat colleagues is being strongly opposed by him and he is lobbying to repeal this divisive piece of legislation. Bob strongly urges everyone to respond to the public consultation on the Caste legislation announced by the Conservative government recently which he calls, “a great opportunity for the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities to repeal the legislation and lobby for any reference to ‘caste’ be removed from it”.
He has also lobbied Ministers to consider the case of Indian students coming to the UK to study and has been an advocate of future avenues for them in the UK to retain the highly skilled population in the country;
In addition, Bob makes numerous representations on behalf of constituents whose families wish to visit the UK and have been unfairly rejected visas. When mango exports were banned to the UK, Bob spoke against it and lobbied for lifting the ban in 2014.
For nearly three decades now, Bob has been a regular at almost all festivals, festivities organised by temples, community centres and community groups in and around London especially in Harrow and Brent. On key holy days such as Diwali, Hindu New Year and Navratri Bob visits a record number of temples and community events; perhaps the highest ever any elected representative has attended. In a year he hosts numerous community events at the Parliament for not only members of the Indian communities in the UK but also for visiting dignitaries and personalities from India.
In his maiden speech in the House of Commons in 2010 when he first got elected as a Member of Parliament in 2010, he observed the close ties between a majority of his constituents and the western state of Gujarat in India.
As the Leader of Brent Council in 1990s he approved an annual grant of £90,000 for the Brent Hindu Council to organise Navratri and New Year celebrations. This grant went to pay for rental of the halls and premises and was greatly appreciated by the members of the community however it was granted in the teeth of opposition from others. Once the Labour party came in power, this grant was reduced making it very difficult for Hindu community to come together and celebrate their festivals.
Bob launched the International Day of Yoga in 2015 and has since then continued to support the organising of the International Yoga Day celebrations in the Parliament. He also makes it a point to attend all the major functions celebrating Yoga in and around London. He was among the few MPs to have participated in yoga session in the Parliament and practices Yoga in his own daily routine.
In 1987, Bob was the first elected Conservative to visit the Bhakti Vedanta Manor, Watford which was back then under severe threats of closure. Bob in fact, lobbied support from his conservative colleagues and saved the Manor building from closing. Today the Bhakti Vedanta Manor has millions of visitors every year and is one of the most popular venues for major Hindu festival celebrations.
The first organisation to represent the Indian community in Brent, the BIA has undergone a steady evolution in its 50 years of existence. In the 1980s the BIA was faced with eviction from their premises by the Brent Council. Bob supported them and prevented them from eviction despite very strong opposition by the Labour council then. The building that stands today is in far better condition than it was a couple of decades back. Today, it has emerged as a glowing example of volunteerism, enterprise, perseverance and continues to inspire several thousands of individuals to take pride in this community spirit.
In 1990, over 25 years ago as the Leader of Brent Council, Bob worked closely with the Trustees of BAPS Swaminarayan temple, Neasden to identify site for building of the Neasden temple which currently is the largest temple in Europe! Under Bob’s leadership Brent Council granted the planning permission for construction of the Swaminarayan temple in Neasden. Bib was present for the laying of the Foundation Stone in August 1990 and has been a regular attendee ever since.
As the Chairman of the Land and Building Committee, Brent Council he approved the sale of the land for building Sanatan Hindu temple at Ealing Road, one of the most popular temples in the area today. Planning permission was granted despite bitter opposition from Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors.
Europe’s first Independent Hindu faith school, the Swaminarayan School was set up in 1992 by the Swaminarayan Trust. The land for the school was approved by Bob in his role as the leader of the Council and amidst strong opposition from Labour and Lib-Dem councillors. The first state sponsored Hindu primary school, Krishna Avanti School and the first state sponsored Hindu secondary school, Avanti House, both in his constituency were supported by Bob, who has been closely involved in their setting up.
Having been a great friend of Indians, Bob understood the importance of vernacular languages in mainstream curriculum and has been an active lobbyist of minority lndian languages such as Gujarati and Hindi in curriculum. In fact currently he is lobbying for it to be extended to the GCSE levels and recognised across the school educational system.
From 1998 to 2006 he emerged as a strong champion and mentor for Indian candidates for Brent and Harrow councils. He lobbied heavily to increase representation of Indian candidates across wards by making it mandatory to have at least one Indian candidate in every ward. By 2006 in both Brent and Harrow a third of BAME conservative councillors were elected making it the highest number of conservative BAME councillors anywhere in the country!
Bob continues to encourage and promote Indians to take active interest in politics at both local and National levels. He was one of the founding members of the Conservative Friends of India with his parliamentary colleague and peer, Lord Dolar Popat.
In 2016, Bob supported the organising of the first ever Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir Festival to unite the many communities and regional voices from Jammu and Kashmir state, including from across the border. It was a unique celebration of shared heritage, culture, business opportunities and concluded with the announcement of Jammu Kashmir Day in the UK Parliament. He has since then met with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussing the possibility of official announcement of 26th October as Jammu Kashmir Day.
Bob continues to serve the local communities, visiting them at their doorstep and receiving letters from residents which he continues to respond to despite a busy campaign schedule to return to serve his much loved constituency, Harrow East. He won the 2015 Parliamentary elections with an increased majority and hopes to return with an even bigger majority during the snap General Elections on 8th June 2017.