The world moves at an ever faster rate. Those who take too long to decipher the modern code tend to be left behind. However, there are individuals who have the capacity to rise above these challenges and put themselves bang in the centre of the storm. They chase the twisters and harness that energy to give life to issues that often get forgotten or misrepresented. My friend Bob Blackman, Member of Parliament in the UK has not been shy about where he stands on even the toughest of issues. Today I write to give you a glimpse of the man who has become the champion for India, and for Jammu and Kashmir.
Bob Blackman MP of Harrow East has been a long term champion of the Indian diaspora in the UK. He has remained a strong voice of the British Indians 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.
In the House of Commons, he stood up and said, “I know of no other issue that creates such emotion among this country’s Indian and Pakistani communities as the position of Jammu and Kashmir. It is important that we as elected representatives should debate the issues and represent those views. I stand as an unabashed friend of India to defend India’s position in the conflict and the people who were ethnically cleansed from Kashmir.”And as recently as 26 October 2015, Bob sponsored the historic seminar commemorating the 68th anniversary of the signing of the instrument of accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India by Maharaja Hari Singh.
I caught up with Bob and below I share with you in brief some key elements which I am sure will be both in- formative and enlightening.
What is your current position?
I was elected MP for Harrow East in 2010, winning the seat from Labor, and successfully re-elected in 2015 with an increased majority. I am Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Hindus, Secretary of the India APPG, member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Inter Parliamentary Union Executives and Secretary of the 1922 Committee. I am also a member of the Communities & Local Government, Procedure and Backbench Business Committees.
What are your proudest achievements to date?
I was instrumental in turning around the London Borough of Brent which was regarded as a centre of left wing radicalism in the 1980s, reforming the finances and cutting the local tax rates every year for 6 years whilst dramatically improving local services.
Who/What inspires you?
Mahatma Gandhi for changing the world through peaceful means Sardar vallabhbhai Patel for being the inspiration in the creation of a strong India and in my view, he should have been the PM. Winston Churchill for being steadfast in the face of the most severe adversity.Margaret Thatcher for rescuing the UK from being the sick man of Europe. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making Gujarat the economic powerhouse of India and for inspiring India to believe that the whole nation can become a great power.
What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?
I attended a state comprehensive school and Liverpool University. I have only had the privilege of a loving family and the wonderful support of my wife. At every stage of my political career, I have had to overcome the obstacle of those with prejudicial views on an individual’s background. At every stage, people have tried to prevent me from achieving my potential.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career to date?
My wife has been my constant guide and help over the years. I have observed a number of politicians over the years and taken appropriate guidance from each of them. I have cherry picked ideas from others rather than had one inspiration!
What would you like to achieve before GE2020?
I am keen to ensure that we abolish the ill-thought out, unnecessary and divisive caste discrimination legislation. This was passed in the last Parliament but has not been enacted as yet as it was passed by a combination of Labor and Liberal MPs against strong Conservative opposition. The legislation has created consternation amongst the Hindu community who rightly regard this as creating friction where none exists.
If you were the Prime Minister of the UK, what one policy would you wish to implement and why?
I strongly believe that we need to create an international partnership be- tween the UK, India, USA and Israel to help preserve the security of the free world. I believe that the special relationship that exists between the UK & USA needs to be replicated with both India and Israel.
Where do you stand on the EU Referendum and why?
I am immensely proud to represent one of the most diverse constituencies in the UK. Harrow is also one of the safest boroughs in London, home to a lot of hardworking people who genuinely care about our community and ways of life.
I was born and raised in North London. As a former local Councillor and representative of Brent and Harrow on the Greater London Authority, I have seen the damage being caused by remote and unelected bureaucrats from the European Union. Endless red tape is harming local businesses, unchecked immigration from Europe is making a housing shortage into a crisis and lots of people are being trapped by unfair visa policies.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Our hands are tied by European Union policy which is designed to discriminate, so that jobs go to Europeans who can move freely across our borders instead of potentially better qualified people from our Commonwealth cousin nations, despite far closer family ties and shared history and values.
When people can’t even welcome relatives to the UK short term for weddings or family events, and our temples can’t bring over the expert stonemasons they need to maintain their buildings, because of a biased and overloaded immigration system, we have to do something.
I want the UK to trade freely with our friends from the Commonwealth and other developing nations. I want the immigration system to be a fair and just one where people from India are given preferential access to the UK. Currently we have no control over immigration from the EU and draconian restrictions are placed on those applying from outside the EU as a result. We also need to remove the artificial trade barriers against goods from the Commonwealth and provide an equal playing field to those goods and services from the EU.
you are very outspoken when it comes to jammu and kashmir, can you tell us where you stand on this critical issue?
I have been outspoken on the is- sue since 1991, when I heard about the plight of the Kashmiri Pandits. I held a conference in Brent Town Hall on the subject and was instrumental in ensuring that the subject of Jammu and Kashmir was mentioned in the 1992 Conservative Party Manifesto for the 1992 General Election.
I am firmly of the view that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is part of India and so it should remain. I believe that the Pakistani forces, illegally occupying part of Jammu and Kashmir, should leave the region and the whole of the state should be reunited under Indian Administration in line with the original decision of the Maharajah.
I visited Jammu and Kashmir in February 2016, and I saw for myself the opportunity for increased trade, commerce and tourism to the state. I am looking forward to helping to promote the first ever Jammu and Kashmir festival in the UK in the autumn.
If you were marooned on a desert island, which historical figure would you like to spend your time with and why?
If I was marooned I would want someone with me with a practical capability of surviving in extreme circumstances! I take a very practical view! I would therefore choose David Livingstone, the famous explorer.So, you now have a sense of the man. Let me also bring you totally up to date. On 13th July 2017 Bob placed before the British Parliament the following EDM:
That this House condemns the recent killings of innocent Hindu pilgrims in Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir in India; recognizes it as a gruesome attack on innocent pilgrims by Lashkar- e-Toiba, an internationally recognized terrorist group, led by Abu Ismail; urges the Government to condemn strongly the attack and stand with India in the fight against terrorism; calls on the Government to investigate if there are any direct or indirect links to organisations or individuals in the UK that may be involved in such cross border atrocities in India; and further calls on the Government to reject all forms of terrorism and support to organisations and individuals propagating such ideology and to take strong action against such organisations and individuals in the UK to ensure peace in the UK as well as India.
This has been one of the most powerful statements ever presented to the British Parliament on Jammu and Kashmir. So I say to Indians everywhere, search out in your politicians,people of character and integrity who are willing to champion the toughest of causes – so that in the end we can secure justice for those who have been wronged. Great Britain and India have a history. It has not always been rosy, and yes there are multiple areas where redress is still outstanding. However, Indians in the UK are beginning to galvanize political support so that many of these important matters can be approached with seriousness and the customary diplomatic tact.
The era of PM Modi has given hope to millions in India and around the world. We have even seen the USA issue their formal State Department note in which they now formally say, the ‘State of Jammu and Kashmir’. In the space of a few years the world order is changing. With such changes the UK and India, with their special understanding and relationship, can take full advantage of the situation for the welfare of their respective citizens. We live in interesting times, let’s see who remains steadfast in reaching their goals.
-By kapil Dudakia