Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Reena Ranger is the Conservative Party candidate for the Birmingham Hall Green Constituency Area in the forthcoming UK parliamentary elections scheduled for the 8th of June 2017.
Reena Ranger, the Councillor from Moor Park and Eastbury for the ruling Conservative Party in the United Kingdom is the candidate for the Birmingham Hall Green Constituency Area in the forthcoming UK parliamentary elections scheduled for the 8th of June 2017. She is also on the Environmental Forum Planning Committee, and Sustainable Development, Planning and Transport Committee. Reena is actively involved in the sphere of women empowerment and runs Women Empowered (WE) in the United Kingdom. WE aspires to change the lives of disempowered women for the better-giving them the courage, confidence and networks to achieve their ambitions and juggle work and family in new and creative ways; and is currently supporting The British Asian Trust’s ‘Give a Girl a Future’ campaign.
1. Varsha Thakur: Hello Reena, it is nice to interact with you for Democracy Express. You are amongst the new wave of young British leadership that is playing an important role in the country, more so at a time, when the United Kingdom is being lead by Theresa May. There are two things that catch one’s attention immediately- first is that you are a person of Indian origin and second is that you are a woman. How do you feel in the field of British politics which traditionally has been a man’s turf and that too white in texture- as a woman and as a young politician?
Reena Ranger: Hello Varsha, thank you for this opportunity to share my views.
The political landscape of Britain is changing. I think one of the David Cameron’s legacies and Theresa May’s priority is the push for more diverse representation in elected positions. A woman now holds the highest elected office in the land, in fact the leader of the Conservative Party; the leaders of the three main political parties in Scotland and Welsh National Party are all women. We have Asians holding prominent cabinet positions as well as the Mayor of London being a British Asian. There is still more progress to be made but things have changed considerably in just a few years. Aspiring politicians like me now have many great role models and for those who are looking at a political path, have a number of individuals to be inspired by. I have also found many an encouraging word and support from my colleagues to aim to fulfill my ambitions.
2. Varsha Thakur: Britain is the birthplace of Magna Carta which many say paved way for the kind of democracy that we see today. The US is a country which is only a few hundred years old when one compares it with Britain yet it saw Barack Obama, an African American, being elected as the US President not only once but twice. Many people argue that a similar thing is not possible in Britain the way it is today. When do you think Britain shall be mature enough to accept a non-white person as a Prime minister?
Reena Ranger: I seem to remember that almost prior to Barak Obama entering the race for President; the USA was having that same debate with the added question of whether they would see a woman President. Obama has faced his fair share of critics and those who struggled with his ethnicity. The main UK political parties usually have internal nominations and then go out to a public vote. Despite the recent events politically in a few areas, I do believe that if the right person for the job is put forward, the most important consideration for the public is a leader in whom they can trust to get the job done and will be the best person for the role. We have many ministers and a mayor for London who is also from an ethnic minority background, and when I read or hear about them, they are held to account for the job that they do rather than there being focus on their background or ethnicity. This is not a colour blind world as yet but with Obama and others, there has been a significant shift in how we now perceive that all people are equal irrespective of race and the possibilities are endless for the next generation of leaders.
3. Varsha Thakur: BREXIT had been big news across the world which took toll on the British politics as well. The change of guard at the British politics makes one think that perhaps one learns more about the nitty-gritty of real life at Oxford Street rather than at Oxford University. Of the 56 British Prime Ministers to date, 42 studied at Oxbridge, 11 did not go to university (most recently Winston Churchill and John Major), and only 3, Earl Russell, Neville Chamberlain, and Gordon Brown, went to other universities (Edinburgh, Birmingham and Edinburgh respectively).
Where did you think the Conservative Party falter?
Reena Ranger: Unfortunately, I believe the “Remain” campaign didn’t get the message across as effectively as the “Leave” campaign. The benefits of the EU had not, in my opinion, been clearly conveyed during this campaign and indeed for the entire duration of our membership. There was a lack of understanding at what was being felt at the grassroots level and many commentators have different explanations and understandings for this.
4. Varsha Thakur: Many argue that if nature wanted Britain to be part of Europe there would not be an English Channel in between them in the very first place. In a way, EU was very artificial and unsustainable construct from a British perspective, and most traditional and forward looking people are relieved that Britain got out of the EU. What are the opportunities now for Britian and its peoples, and how the country can harness it?
Reena Ranger: I was a Remainer. I believed in the good a reformed European Union could do. The country did indeed vote out by 52%, but that does not mean that the views, concerns and opinions of the 48% are invalid. There are opportunities to be seized beyond the EU now and they should be done so quickly. However, in my opinion, there are many opportunities to be seized within the EU too. There is a great deal of common good that the EU can do and with more speed than as 28 individual nations, for example, in terms of collaboration of research and technologies as well as for the environment. We now get to carve out a Brexit strategy of our own with not just the EU but with the countries of the world and I hope it harnesses as many opportunities as possible.
5. Varsha Thakur: Britain is quite unique in the sense that it is not Belgium, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Romania or Lithuania and of course France. Britain’s ties with India go long back. India was called “The Jewel in the Crown” during the days of the British and anyone would agree that it is the jewel which has the real value not the crown.
Even today India invests more in the UK and creates more jobs than whole of the west Europe put together. India is the third biggest investor in the UK. But there is a perception that the British behavior towards the Indians is still discriminatory. For example, it was reported that the Conservative government has not even put Indian tourists at par with Chinese tourists. Indian tourists are still charged much more for visas with less duration than the Chinese. In May 2016, the Chinese media branded the British as ‘barbarians’ after reporting Elizabeth II called President Xi’s officials “very rude.”
The term “nasty party” which was coined by Prime Minister Theresa May in May in 2002, when the Conservatives were in opposition is now being used for the Conservatives by the top business leaders and others when the home secretary Amber Rudd announced plans for new visa curbs.
The BREXIT was supposed to make Britain more global and open to Commonwealth countries such as India, as was often promised by leaders such as Priti Patel and Boris Johnson. However, it seems that the message coming out from 10 Downing Street is that the UK wants Indian business but not its highly skilled people. Do you not think that this kind of behavior will certainly be problematic for Britain for any future trade deal with a country like India which is growing by leaps and bounds?
Reena Ranger: The UK and India have a special relationship. It was not that long ago that I along with 60,000 others, including PM Cameron, sat in crisp British weather at Wembley Stadium welcoming Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi to the UK. BREXIT has not yet happened and it is just a few months since this momentous vote occurred so let us give it a little time for these changes to start happening.
There is no doubt that the UK will have to explore new relationships and starting with our fellow Commonwealth nations who may certainly be a priority. I am sure discussions are or soon will be taking place between India and Britain and just because we have not reached a mutually satisfactory state of affairs yet does not mean that it is not in the offing or will not be reached at some stage. PM May visited India recently and I am sure that talks on the issue were held. Negotiations are without a doubt very complex and we should allow them to conclude and I hope this will be in the near future.
6. Varsha Thakur: It would be wonderful if the UK-India ties assume an important role in the post BREXIT scenario, and set a precedent for free movement of trade, services and people between the two countries, for others to emulate. How UK would do it would be an important issue as it can’t legally make any trade deals with India until it is officially out of the European Union – by 2019 at the earliest.
Since we mentioned the “Jewel in the Crown,” the issue of claiming reparation from Britain including the return of the famous Koh-i-Noor diamond and other stolen artifacts to India is gaining momentum. Maharaja Ranjit Singh in his will bequeathed the diamond to the Lord Jagannath Mandir. Meanwhile, the British stole the diamond from the teen prince of Punjab and called it a gift to the Queen while whisking away both the prince and diamond from India to London. Last year, Shashi Tharoor with his lilting tress and Received Pronunciation gave a scalding and spirited speech on the subject at the Oxford Union Society which was also an internet sensation.
But it is more about the sense of justice which prevails in the common British public and also in the essence of English jurisprudence which is also the bedrock of the modern justice system. You know that Mahatma Gandhi used to reside with the common people in East London whenever he visited London and that the British public generated more funds for victims of the Tsunami in Sri Lanka than what was allocated by the British government.
Tharoor demanded a token GBP 1 pound per annum as reparation from the British to India. As a British citizen and a politician, how do you think the issue should be addressed in an amicable manner?
Reena Ranger: Mr Shashi Tharoor is a skilled orator. India has a rich history, one with empires long before the British arrived, each leaving their own legacy. History it is said, cannot be erased or altered but must be learnt from. The British took and gave during their time, the arguments for and against reparation are intertwined, complex and for many emotive. India has so much talent and is a growing economy, making huge strides in many fields. A nation with such a strong culture and entrepreneurial spirit and a space programme should look forward using historic links for further advancement. The international community has moved significantly in just a few decades and leaders and countries are now accountable to the people of the world for their actions, especially with the speed with which social media can carry messages around the world. There are many periods of history which could probably never be repeated now due to such advances in technology and communications.
7. Varsha Thakur: South Asia has produced two dashing, unique and somewhat similar kind of politicians- Imran Khan in Pakistan and Shashi Tharoor in India.Tharoor’s new book ‘An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India’ was out last year and is expected to pull out the debate over colonial reparations from the UK. One must wait and see how it goes.
You are also a member of the Environmental Forum Planning Committee, and Sustainable Development, Planning and Transport Committee. These are major issues that affect the nations especially the developing ones. How do you think Britain can contribute more to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for the peoples of the world especially when the capital spending as a share of GDP in UK has fallen from around 20% in 2007 to less than 15% in 2016, and there is decline in manufacturing, increasing trade and fiscal deficit and unemployment etc.?
Reena Ranger: With the advances in technology on so many fronts combined with the will and vision we should be able to manage our environment in a sustainable way.
We have the information to know that the development methods of the past cannot be a carried into the future particularly with energy sources. We are close to a point where many parts of the world will, in a few years’ time, be able to rely heavily on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels; recycling of resources is becoming ever more important.
We need to house and feed ever more people and actually have the resources to do it but distribution is so many a times the barrier. Such issues are being addressed by governments and NGO’s across the globe and I am confident that we will see huge changes in the coming years on these fronts.
8. Varsha Thakur: Another challenging issue which is facing the world is that of international terrorism. Along with the UK, countries like the US, India, China, Saudi Arabia, France, Malaysia, Indonesia, etc. have been its victim. UK is a P-5 member of the United Nations, and there is no agreement of the very definition of ‘terrorism.’ What more do you think it Britain can do to address the scourge of terrorism that seems to have afflicted the whole world?
Reena Ranger: Terrorism of all forms needs to be quashed whilst balancing freedom of speech versus those who wish to extinguish it. The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and to defeat terrorism one needs collaboration and consensus.
The borderless world-wide-web cannot be patrolled by one nation alone. New technologies give rise to new forms of exploitations and threats along with the old ones still in existence.
To effectively deal with and counter mass co-ordination to lone wolf attacks, collaboration is vital between nations, organisations, law enforcement agencies, civil society and communities.
Definitions have their limitations and cannot be all encompassing for extremely serious matters such as these. However, I also make it clear that just because there is no consensus on the definition does not mean that the phenomenon isn’t real and dangerous. There are individuals who are by many people’s definition extremists, but they have conducted their activities for many years without breaking any laws. Terrorism can be violent and also sans violence, and definitions depend on what one defines as non-extremist fundamental values to be. It is only through debate, discussion, intelligence based information and collaborations that we can begin to defeat terrorism and its threats.
10. Varsha Thakur: You mention two crucial points which are the transformation terrorism is going through in a global context, and also its form that does not have a violent part but has significant impact on societies and countries. These are the areas which need a careful consideration by the concerned authorities while developing an effective approach to deal with international terrorism.
Coming back, there is no doubt about the role that one’s family play in one’s life is very important as no man is an island unto oneself. Your father is Dr. Rami Range is not only a leading businessperson but who also wrote a best seller ‘From Nothing to Everything” about his journey. I am of the opinion that is a must read for every entrepreneur, and not to mention academia that talks of innovation and entrepreneurship these days to inspire the young generation to become entrepreneurs. How important a role did he play in your life, and to inspire you to take the path you have chosen?
Reena Ranger: I have grown up always watching or working with my father. There is no doubt of his influence and teachings upon me.
My family business was founded by my father and my strong work ethic comes from him. I have always worked closely with him and continue to do so. He has always taught me to try my best and excel at whatever I do. People will remember you and your attitude long after the job itself. To give back, look after others and contribute to society, to help wherever you can and always try to be positive and big hearted, and that there is no substitute for hard work. There is little doubt of his influence and I am lucky to have him and his support.
10. Varsha Thakur: Thank you Reena. On behalf of News Trust of India, it was lovely to speak with you. It is indeed the need of hour that women have a proper representation in the political platform. I wish you all the best for the forthcoming elections and I am confident that you shall augur a positive change for betterment in Britain.
Reena Ranger: Thank you !
*** This is an abridged version of the article published in Nueva Diplomacia