London Diary: Of Brexit and the royal visit

British Prime Minister David Cameron had to rush back from his Easter holidays.

Nearly one hundred years ago, Jamsetji Tata was planning his iron and steel mill. The British, then ruling India, were sceptical that an Indian could build a steel mill. He persisted and built the Tata Iron and Steel Company. The irony is that in the last few years, the leading names in steel here in the UK have been Indian. But the bottom has fallen out of the steel market, thanks to the Chinese dumping steel. The prospect that the Tata Steel in Port Talbot, Wales, would shut down has created a crisis here. Tata Steel used to be British Steel, then it became a British-Dutch company Corus. Ratan Tata bought it nine years ago.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had to rush back from his Easter holidays. The possibility of 15,000 workers becoming unemployed will have an impact on the community and affect 30,000 jobs. Mr Cameron has been travelling to India in the quest for investment and trade. For his five visits, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only responded with one. The UK government would like Tata to reconsider its decision, but considering Tata is losing a million and more each day, it is unlikely the decision will change. As it is the Tatas are one of the largest employers of manufacturing workers in the UK. But then Mr Cameron and British chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne also need China for trade and investment.

As they say troubles never come singly. One reason Mr Cameron is keen to find a “steely” solution is that we are engaged in the debate over the referendum about staying in or leaving the European Union — Brexit. There is much noise and little light, but Mr Cameron has a lot to lose if people feel he has failed. He would like the UK to stay and reject Brexit. His Cabinet minister for business is Sajid Javid, the son of a Pakistani immigrant. Mr Javid has a banking background. (Mr Javid was the culture minister when we were planning the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square, which is when I learnt his family is originally from Jullundur.)

He is a high flyer and obviously wants to get to the top some day. He is with Mr Cameron and against Brexit. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, with his cuddly sheepdog looks is on the opposite side. Priti Patel, Mr Cameron’s choice as the diaspora minister is with Mr Johnson and for Brexit. Undoubtedly, Ms Patel too could be a fine Prime Minister. But let’s see how the referendum goes!

Mr Johnson is retiring as the mayor of London, and the election comes up in May. The candidates could not be more disparate: Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate, son of an immigrant and Zac Goldsmith whose father was a multi-millionaire. The contest will be a keen one. Normally Labour does better in the inner city, while Conservatives thrive in the suburbs. For both, the Asian diaspora holds the key.

Yet, imagine our surprise when in the post came an election letter from
Mr Goldsmith! Behind a photograph of Mr Goldsmith was the picture of Mr Cameron with Narendra Modi... The message is that Tories are with the Indians and so Indians should vote for them. Many have complained about this “racial profiling”, but could this be clever marketing? Does NaMo magic work everywhere?

The young Royals, Kate and William will embark on their charm India tour on April 10 and they will kickstart it with a fundraiser in Mumbai with the glitterati, including actors Shah Rukh Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to raise money for their favourite charities. (Some may quibble that the Royals have got their pile from India already, so how come they are back so soon for more?) The grand red carpet function will have dance and fashion. It puzzles me who planned this itinerary. There must be something else that Indians could do better than just Bollywood dancing!

Anyway, then the Royals are going to behave like the rest of us and do ordinary stuff which includes visiting slums and meeting deprived children. (Perhaps, as someone remarked reading the list of activities, next time Mr Modi should go to the poorer areas in Brixton, and East London! A slum exchange programme will be good.)

After the thoughtful gesture of laying a wreath at the Taj Mahal hotel, remembering all those who died in the 2009 Mumbai terror attacks, they will arrive in Delhi for a party at the residence of the British high commissioner to mark the 90th birthday of William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. They will also drop in for a photoshoot at Taj Mahal and then have a “jolly” adventure at Kaziranga National Park.

As the Indian media prepares to go wild during this carefully choreographed event — designed to make them look like any normal couple out on a summer holiday without the kids — the British press will have a field day too. I am already cringing at the thought of the photographs of Will and Kate cuddling poor little slum babies and all that Bollywood dancing in which no doubt the two will gracefully join Shah Rukh Khan... you know what I mean?

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