Praful Patel Chairman of Indo-British Cultural Exchange presenting the memento to the chief minister Anandiben Patel
British Gujaratis will have a more convenient option when they travel to India next as direct flights from Ahmedabad to London have been given the green light by prime minister Narendra Modi who made the announcement in his address at Wembley Stadium last Friday (13).
“From December 15, there will be direct flights between London and Ahmedabad,” the prime minister told 60,000 supporters who had gathered to hear him speak.
Praful Patel, an India advisor to the National Congress of Gujarati Organisations (NCGO), has spearheaded the campaign over the last few years. He has argued that direct flights from London to the Gujarat city could shave several hours off travelling times.
Modi told the crowd how members of the Indian community approached him when he was Gujarat chief minister in 2003 regarding the issue of flights from Ahmedabad to London.
“I told them I couldn’t do nothing because I wasn’t prime minister and (then Indian prime minister Atal Behari) Vajaypee had that job. “But my dear brothers and sisters, my dear countrymen, London-Ahmedabad Direct flight will start now.”
Passengers currently have to fly into Mumbai or Dubai from London and then take a connecting plane to Ahmedabad, which can take as long as 20 hours in total with the stop-over. Last month, Patel told Eastern Eye, who were the first to break the story: “I am sure everyone will welcome this news, in particular the large Gujarati community in Britain.
“We got the Gujarat government to pass a cabinet resolution supporting the project. I recently met Anandiben Patel, chief minister of Gujarat, and urged her to speak to the prime minister personally.”
Patel who worked on the campaign with Sharad Parikh, the president of the NCGO – the umbrella organisation which represents around 700,000 Gujaratis in the UK – led a delegation to meet the former civil aviation minister Ajit Singh last year and described the process as an “uphill battle.”
Patel added: “As India advisor to the NCGO, we have been working hard to get this issue on the agenda even before Modi came to power. I found out there was lot of opposition, both in the civil aviation ministry and Air India.”
Air India stopped the route eight years ago, and several international airlines raised the fares of their indirect flights from Ahmedabad following the axing of the popular journey.
The group has estimated 14,500 passengers travel between the UK and Gujarat each year.