In recognition of his work with Dehradun-based social activist network, Making a Difference by Being the Difference (MAD), Louis Dreyfus WHT Scholar Abhijay Negi was invited to the Houses of Parliament to meet with British politicians of Indian origin to discuss their contributions to society. He shares his experiences below.
As Lord Karan Bilimoria completed ten years at the House of Lords in the mother of all Parliaments, he celebrated his own decade by commemorating the contribution of British Indians to the UK Parliament since 1892. The event was held on November 2.
Lord Bilimoria and Gareth Thomas, MP, in association with the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe, hosted this private event at the dining room of House of Commons, where several members of Parliament including Lord Dholakia, Baroness Prashar, Lord Popat, Lord Gadhia, Virendra Sharma, MP and Shaileshwara, MP were among the speakers. The acting High Commissioner of India to the UK, Dinesh Patnaik also graced the event.
It was first in 1892 that the glass ceiling was broken by Dadabhai Naoroji who went on to become the first Member of Parliament of Asian Descent in the United Kingdom. Naoroji, who belonged to the Parsi community, was followed by others and, with the passage of time, the British Indian community – like the Indian diaspora elsewhere in the world – had made a mark for itself, not just in the polity of one of the world’s oldest democracies but also in strengthening the fabric of their society at large. Within the Indian community, the Parsi’s role has been far in excess of their numerical proportion in every sector, including business and politics. The Parsi population is currently dwindling at a sharp rate the world over, including in India.
Interestingly, Lord Karan Bilimoria, who is also a Zoroastrain Parsi, enjoys a distinct connection with my hometown in India, Dehradun. Though he was born in Telangana, in Southern India, Lord Bilimoria’s mother still resides in their ancestral property in Dehradun. Furthermore, Lord Bilimoria was not the only one who shares a bond with Dehradun. The first female MP of Asian descent, Baroness Flather, also shared with me her fond recollections of her younger days at Dehradun which she found magnificently beautiful.
During the event, Lord Bilimoria played the host and received the congratulations of all present for his tireless work. I was the youngest among the 40 guests; my entry had been recommended to him by a Dehradun-based journalist who had covered my social work in the city and knew I was at Oxford on the Louis Dreyfus Weidenfeld Hoffmann Scholarship.
Each speaker underscored the fact that while they were British citizens and representatives of British interests, they had not forgotten their roots and will always feel a strong bond with India. They noted that the Prime Minister of UK, Theresa May had chosen India as her first destination outside Europe for a bilateral visit and that itself shows the successful contribution which the British Indian community has made in casting a favourable influence over policy makers in London and how India’s rise is being duly noted by London.
In his concluding address, the acting High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom Mr. Patnaik shared with all lawmakers present in the gathering that India regards each of them and its citizens doing well abroad as the most effective ambassadors of Indian interests.
The function concluded with a group photo of all Indian origin MPs, cutting across party lines with the hope that their numbers and representation will continue to grow in the times to come. This bodes well not just for Britain and for the Indian community there but also for India’s favourable global image overseas and for a more integrated global community.
Abhijay Negi (Bachelor of Civil Law, 2016/17) is a Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar.