Dr S Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister of India, and wife Kyoko Jaishankar visited UK for 5 days over Diwali. The Minister spent Sunday 12 November evening with UK PM Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty at No 10. Later the Minister thanked Mr Sunak and wife for their generous hospitality on a tweet and also visited Neasden Temple, where he and wife performed the abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni Maharaj.
During his visit, Minister Jaishankar met various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet Ministers including the newly appointed Foreign Secretary David Cameron, where a range of regional issues including the Russia-Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in West Asia were discussed. He also met UK Home Secretary James Cleverly and National Security Adviser (NSA) Tim Barrow where India's concerns about pro-Khalistan extremism and its impact on the safety of its diplomats in the country were among the topics addressed during his meetings.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer and Shadow Secretary David Lammy also met EAM Dr S Jaishankar, in efforts for the Labour party to interact with the Indian government and build a relationship, lost over the past years. The Minister met former PM Tony Blair too, discussing bilateral ties, the West Asia situation and Africa.
He was also gifted with a cricket bat by PM Sunak with signature from England's cricket team players.
Visit to Neasden Temple
Minister Jaishankar attended BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, London, popularly known as Neasden Temple on Sunday 12 November 2023 to celebrate the festival of Diwali with British Hindus and the Indian diaspora.
Dr Jaishankar was traditionally welcomed by senior swamis and trustees of BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha after which they proceeded on a brief tour of the Mandir, spending several minutes absorbing its peace and intricate architecture while learning about the contributions of the Mandir and wider fellowship to British society.
The couple also performed the abhishek of Shri Nilkanth Varni Maharaj, the teenage form of Bhagwan Swaminarayan, before addressing the assembly in the prayer hall.
The BAPS Mandir in London was the first traditional Hindu temple outside of India and is the largest in Europe. It has served as a radiant embodiment of India’s values in the heart of the UK for almost 30 years. Dr Jaishankar drew upon these contributions and commented, “A large part of the image of India is what happens in India, but a large part of it is what each one of you (Indian diaspora) does every day – in your work, in your living, in your neighbourhood, and in your activities. The Indian community abroad is our real strength, so once again, I thank you all for everything that you do every day. That is what really defines India. I am blessed that I am with you here today.”
Meeting with the diaspora
On Monday 13 November, EAM Dr S Jaishankar hosted a reception for the diaspora at the Central Hall Westminster. In his 30 mins speech, he spoke about a ‘new India’, and a relationship of “equals” between UK-India, under the capable leadership of the Indian Prime Minister and his various initiatives - the technological and socio-economic developments in India including the success of PM Modi’s Millet promotion campaign.
Describing the bilateral relationship with the UK as a 'positive force', Dr Jaishankar told UK’s Indian diaspora to spread the story of the new India and called the community as the ‘motivator’ for bilateral ties. He spoke about the strengths of the UK-India relationship and how it could better contemporary technology, or help in greater manufacturing, science and innovation, and how it can also promote pluralism, democracy, respect for diversity in the world.
While the much-anticipated Free Trade Agreement (FTA) under Roadmap 2030 between the UK and India is yet to reach its concluding stage, what Dr Jaishankar called ‘a landing point that works for both’, reportedly added, “India and the UK have a long history, and a very complex history. What we are trying to do is to make history a positive force with our commonalities, shared practices and institutions… to make history work for us.”
Repatriation of 8th century temple idols
On the final day of his visit, the Minister presided over a repatriation ceremony in India House for two 8th-century temple idols - Yogini Chamunda and Yogini Gomukhi, that were stolen from a temple in Lokhari, Uttar Pradesh, India between late 1970s and early 80s. They were recovered by the Indian High Commission with the help of India Pride Project and Art Recovery International. Dr Jaishankar unveiled the idols at the Sardar Patel Hall, India House and said that he looked forward to their return of the idols to their own home country (India).
This was followed by a press conference where he discussed various topics including the Khalistani problems in the UK.
The Minister referred to his conversation with former Foreign Secretary James Cleverly regarding Khalistan and violent protests outside India House. He said, “We have been trying to get the government here to understand that while we as a fellow democracy certainly understand the importance of freedom of expression, and of speech, they should be on guard against the misuse of these freedoms.”
He assured that the gravity of the situation was sharply recognised by the UK officials and the Indian government has made it clear that a “firm stance against the advocacy of violence and extremism” should be taken and India expected its UK’s diplomatic mission be provided with the requisite protection.
Dr Jaishankar's final engagement was an in-conversation session at London's Royal Overseas League organised by Wilton Park.