‘In many meetings, I am the only woman’
KV Prasad talks to Baroness Sandip Verma, UK Minister for Energy and Climate Change
AMRITSAR-born Baroness Sandip Verma of Leicester is a Conservative Life Peer who migrated to the United Kingdom as a child. On a recent visit to India and Punjab as Minister, Department of Energy and Climate Change, in the David Cameroon government, she shared her views on work being done by the UK in the sector and her experiences as a woman who came through the ranks in British politics.
What brought you to India and how do you see your visit?
The purpose was to look at programmes we are supporting here and interact with politicians at the local, national and state level. To see the lot of good work NGOs are doing here on the ground and making sure we are all speaking about the same common goal that has been apparent. I see relations between the UK and India as very important. Prime Minister David Cameroon sees it that way too and that is why he assigned a minister to visit India frequently. He is committed to the UK being one the cleanest and greenest. We are committed to exchanging knowledge on that and India has shown the willingness.
Any impressions on the level of commitment of local leaders in empowering people, since they work at the grassroots level?
The most important is how you translate a wish into delivery. We had fruitful interaction at the roundtable in Chandigarh that was attended by local politicians from various parties. There was consensus that something needs to be done, and to see how we get it implemented without making it a political issue. It has to work for the country and planet. We launched a toolkit and saw good projects in Chandigarh and Ropar, where we saw collaboration between Aston University and IIT-Ropar. The UK is committed to 80 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
India has an issue on financing clean technology. Is there a programme to support it?
Britain has committed 4 billion pounds to the Climate Change Fund and we are working closely through the Department for International Development (UK) and engagement with politicians. I am the first minister to visit Chandigarh and hopefully the Deputy High Commission will be able to bring parties together. UK Trade & Investment is another strong partner. We will make sure those who seek knowledge exchange or technical assistance get it.
Any memories of Amritsar? Have you visited the city on an earlier occasion too?
If cannot be in India and not touch Amritsar. The last I came was when my father passed away; there is a tradition of immersing the ashes in the Beas. Being born in Amritsar, there is a strong feeling of connect; I feel Amritsar has something special about it. In fact, when Prime Minister Cameroon visited, he too noticed it was a very special place.
Do you hold any special memories of the city or relate to in your daily life?
I am a typical Punjabi, and I need to have my paranthas every day! I notice how the Golden Temple is adapting a water management system. It is a good example of how tradition can meet technology.
You are said to have chosen politics for a career as you were impressed by a politician who visited your school. What have been your challenges on this path as a woman?
The person who impressed me to join politics now sits opposite me in the House of Lords, Lord [Greville] Jenner. He was a very good MP. Politicians can motivate the young to take to politics and can ignite an energy in them. He told me how important I was for the country. I grew up in the UK at a time when racism was prevalent and no race-related laws to protect you. I was one of the two non-White students in the class and the comment was a life-changing moment.
Since then I have been looking at discrimination and working to ensure opportunity is available to everyone. It was incredibly difficult for me. I knew nobody in the political arena. It is a struggle if you are from a minority, and being a woman it is even harder. All political parties in the UK have a long way to go. But once you are in the system, you have to deliver. I am in a department that is technical, and I end up in meetings where there are few women. That just shows me how much more needs to be done to bring in diversity.
Political parties across the world are working on attracting the youth to politics.
The political process is to go out and engage, have a conversation. I spend a lot of time talking to young people and women’s groups. There have to be role models for the youth and women to follow.
How about the changing political landscape in Britain?
We have a vibrant diaspora in various fields. It will thus shape future governments. In fact, that’s happening already. British-Indians are beginning to look at politics the same way a typical Briton would.