Not long ago the Evening Standard reporter Andrew Gilligan did an exposé of the Hindu so-called ‘community leader’ Ramesh Kallidai and highlighted his relationships with various far-right Hindu organisations here and in India.
Has the government learnt? Of course not. Last week someone sent me this exchange at the House of Commons.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): As we look at India as a strategic partner and a major global power, the role of DFID has in some ways to be recalibrated. DFID currently operates in four states of India, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal, but it also has federally targeted programmes working throughout India. I want to raise with the Minister the role of India in the UK, including promulgating the role of DFID, because it is not entirely a one-way traffic.
The British taxpayer is acting not, certainly, out of colonial guilt and not entirely out of fraternal feeling, but in some cases, let us be honest, out of enlightened self-interest in seeking partnership with the world’s biggest democracy, which is an emerging force for stability in a particularly unstable region-a country virtually surrounded by what some people might cruelly call failed states. It is a country that has much to teach us.
At present we are extremely fortunate in having people who will make the case for DFID in the UK. I invite the Minister to join me in praising, particularly, the work of Hindu Aid, including two people whom he knows extremely well, Ramesh Kallidai and Arjan Vekaria, who work to promote the work of DFID within the Indian population in the UK. DFID’s work will be more fully understood and more effective in-country when people of Indian origin are able to make the case for DFID here in the UK, not just as part of a diaspora but within the wider community. I hope that my hon. Friend will also be prepared to join me in congratulating Sewa International, a British charity that enjoys the overwhelming support of the Indian population in Britain for its work in promoting such initiatives as the one teacher school, in which core challenges such as literacy in India are addressed on a scale not readily matched by other non-governmental organisations.
We have not touched on the matter of DFID working with NGOs, but in many ways it is an area of added value. DFID is a funder of first resort, but in many cases it is a pump primer. The unsung work of the Department for International Development, which it would be appropriate to mention this afternoon, includes developmental work that it does with NGOs in India.
The Minister’s Department, acting particularly as a repository of advice, information and resource, does extraordinarily good work there, which is seldom acknowledged. I hope that the Department will continue to work with agencies such as Sewa International, which have the experience required not only to help achieve the millennium development goals to which the Minister referred earlier, but also to meet the transparency and compliance criteria mentioned by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness.
On the matter of partnership-although I do not mean to rebrand the Department and move it from assistance to partnership-many of us visited Gujarat after the earthquakes and took a considerable sum of money which had been raised here. We were delighted to work with the Department and with NGOs from Oxfam to the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development, but that was all under the umbrella of Sewa International. Since its inception nearly two decades ago, the UK organisation has worked to promote public service and volunteering in Britain, in partnership with DFID. The Minister will be aware that this year Sewa International has involved the entire Hindu community in raising funds for local causes, such as Refuge and Macmillan Cancer Support.
3.27 pm Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
3.42 pm On resuming-
Stephen Pound: I was talking about Sewa International’s work with organisations, such as Refuge and Macmillan Cancer Support, and on blindness, old-age-related problems, learning difficulties and conservation by providing skilled, able and willing volunteers. My point is that the Department for International Development’s work in partnership with groups such as Sewa International is seldom acknowledged, seldom appears on the balance sheet and is difficult to quantify in actuarial terms, but the tangible difference that it makes to people’s lives is beyond price.
Gareth Thomas – Minister for International Development: My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North rightly highlighted the considerable contribution that Hindu Aid, and Ramesh Kallidai and Arjan Vekaria-its present leadership, for want of a better phrase-are providing. I commend their work and programmes. My hon. Friend told us about some of the work of Sewa International, in particular its leadership in motivating and galvanising the Indian community in the UK to respond to the Gujarat earthquake. It did a powerful and important job then, and its aid programmes continue to do good.
The full debate is on the Parliament website.
Stephen Pound MP is loudly cosying up to Kallidai and his friends for political reasons. His constituency has a Gujarati population and the local ethnic newspaper – Asian Voice – is close to Kallidai. Both Kallidai and Pound have a regular column in Asian Voice.
So Stephen Pound MP, because he wants those brown votes, wants to make sure he has it on record that he is willing to make loud sucking sounds.
Keep in mind that the secular group Awaaz SAW put together a detailed report on Sewa International a few years ago, exposing their links to religious fanatics such as the RSS and VHP in India.
Sidenote: Trolls will no doubt try and accuse AwaazSAW of having an anti-Hindu agenda. But like PP they merely have an anti-religious fanatics agenda. Last year they also published this on Muslim fanaticism.
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Filed in: Hindu,Organisations