Congress president Rahul Gandhi is set for a two-day UK visit next week but the tour has been overshadowed by behind the scenes developments around one of his planned speaking arrangements. The Congress MP will arrive in London on August 24 from Germany and was scheduled to address an event in the Houses of Parliament complex hosted by the Conservative Friends of India (CF India), a membership-led group that promotes links between the UK’s ruling Conservative Party and India.
However, the event has now changed hands to be held in a different room within the House of Commons complex after CF India claimed it was unable to confirm its room booking. “Our event could not go ahead as we were unable to confirm the room booking in time, this being parliamentary recess period,” said Rami Ranger, CF India co-chairman, who was hosting the event alongside Indian-origin peer Baroness Sandy Verma.
According to reports, Verma had backed out of the event leaving it without parliamentary backing and led to the Indian Overseas Congress (IOC) stepping in to take charge of the meeting, scheduled for August 24, with the help of Indian-origin Labour MP Keith Vaz. It is now being billed as a cross-party event to distance itself from the influence of local BJP operatives, who were reportedly unhappy with CF India’s support for the event.
“The Houses of Parliament programme is now being hosted by IOC. This is to allow IOC to manage the attendees,” said IOC spokesperson Gurminder Randhawa. The group is also hosting a flagship diaspora event in honour of the Congress president on August 25 evening, which has been described as an interaction with the “inspirational and prestigious leader”.
Randhawa added: “The main purpose of the event is to bring together NRIs living in the UK and for them to be part of the Indian Overseas Congress UK Mega Conference 2018. “This will be an opportunity for the Indian Overseas Congress and Rahul Gandhi to share their views with the wider audience.”
Besides the IOC organised events, Gandhi is set to address a gathering on ‘India’s Economic Growth and Foreign Policy in an Uncertain World’ as well as a gathering of students and academics at an event organised by the National Indian Students and Alumni Union (NISAU) UK to launch its “Perspective India Townhall” at the London School of Economics (LSE).
“The aim of the event is to promote dynamic and unbiased discussions on issues facing contemporary India as well as the opportunities India presents,” said Sanam Arora, Chair of NISAU UK. “Our Townhall intends to bring together visionary leaders and do-ers, students, young professionals, academics and researchers in India and the UK for healthy and action-oriented discussion, debate and dissent,” she said.
The Indian Journalists’ Association (IJA) in the UK is also set to host a working lunch with Gandhi during the short visit. “This tour of Rahul Gandhi to Germany and UK comes at a time when events in Turkey and free fall of Lira is getting global attention on the type and style of leadership and its impact on social, political and economic fabric of a country,” said Indian entrepreneur and inventor Sam Pitroda, who will be accompanying Gandhi and is the Guest of Honour at the IOC organised events.