Ahmedabad: Britain on Monday said the decision to re-engage with Gujarat was taken in its national interest and it should not be seen as an endorsement of any individual.

British High Commissioner to India James Bevan met Chief Minister Narendra Modi, ending the 10-year boycott of the state over the 2002 Gujarat riots and discussed ways to take forward the relations.

Bevan said after the meeting that active engagement with Gujarat was the right way to advance UK's interest in the state.

"This is engagement with Gujarat and Gujarat as a whole and not an engagement with any individual," Bevan said.

"I don't agree with your perception that we are rehabilitating Mr Modi, this engagement is not about endorsement. If we need to engage with some state, we need to engage with the Chief Minister of state and Mr Modi is democratically elected leader of Gujarat," he said.

Bevan was asked what UK government stood to gain from "rehabilitating" the Gujarat Chief Minister.

Britain had snapped all ties with Gujarat in the aftermath of the 2002 communal riots. The British High Commissioner interacted with Modi for about 50 minutes, discussing a range of issues, including climate change and investment.

In a reply to a question on whether UK will now grant visa to Modi, Bevan said, "This is a hypothetical question as Modi has not applied for any visa. We deal with the visa issue when it comes up on case to case basis".

Though the decision to re-engage with Modi comes just ahead of the legislative assembly elections, Bevan sought to dispel the notion that it would have any effect on the outcome of the polls.

"We have no intentions of interfering in any way in the election which is taking place in Gujarat. Who runs Gujarat is the matter for people of Gujarat to decide. And frankly I think that Gujarat voters are unlikely to be swayed in his or her decision whom to vote for on the basis of a visit of eight hours by the British High Commissioner," he said.

Explaining the rationale behind the decision, Bevan said, "2002 was 10 years ago and in those 10 years many important things have happened. The British government that was elected in 2010 took a decision to deepen and strengthen its relations with India. And if you want to do that you can't ignore one of the most important states in India, which is Gujarat.

"Also, in those 10 years, state of Gujarat has grown to became more prosperous and more successful. There are very large number of Gujaratis living now in UK, and Gujarat over the 10 years has become more important to UK," he said.

"And in those 10 years legal process has gone forward and has resulted in several convictions and important figures have been found guilty of committing the crime during the 2002 riots including a former member of Gujarat Government," he said, adding "I would also like to say that this is increased engagement not the start of the engagement."

The British envoy said his country had a trade office in Gujarat for many years.

On the three British nationals killed in the 2002 riots Bevan said, "I did raise that issue with the Chief Minister. I said that we attach considerable importance to the case which is now being heard in a Gujarat court and asked that case should go on with due speed."

"We haven't done this as a trade off. We have decided to take up this thing as it is in British interest. No deal, no trade off, we have taken this decision on our own," he said.

Asked about alleged human rights violations, Bevan said, "I did raise the issue of human rights and minorities in Gujarat with Chief Minister and also we discussed same issues with different groups and human rights activists in the afternoon which gives me their perspective."

On the European Union and other western countries' engagement with Gujarat, he said, "The fact is that the different countries inside and outside European Union have their own perceptions and there are some members of European Union who are engaged with government of Gujarat, other countries who might make a decision to engage and there are some who decided not to engage. So there is no consensus".

Bevan, who described his meeting with Chief Minister as "good conversation", said, "We agreed that there is scope to develop cooperation between the UK and Gujarat across a very broad range of fields, including education, science and innovation, energy, climate change and trade and investment.

"The first opportunity which we see of increasing this engagement is Vibrant Gujarat 2013 Summit and a large delegation of UK is likely to come during that event," he said.

"We have been doing business with Gujarat for many years as there are many British companies which are based here in Gujarat, and there are many Gujarati Companies based in UK and they are making big contribution in the UK economy," the British envoy added.

(Agencies)

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