Several mainstream Indian news outlets incorrectly claimed last week that Boris Johnson is the first British prime minister to visit Gujarat. Publicly available evidence shows that in 1978, then British Prime Minister James Callaghan visited Ahmedabad with then Prime Minister Morarji Desai.
Johnson visited India for a two-day visit starting April 21, 2022. During his visit, he visited several British businesses operating in India such as JCB, and a visit to Delhi where he held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a free-trade deal.
Several news outlets, like NDTV (archive), the Times of India (archive), a Press Trust of India story carried by the Economic Times (archive) and The Tribune (archive) made the claim about Johnson being the first British PM to visit Gujarat.
Industrialist Gautam Adani too tweeted this. He met Johnson while in Gujarat.
The following evidence suggests that it was James Callaghan who visited Gujarat in 1978, and not Boris Johnson as the first British PM to visit the state.
1. New York Times
A New York Times story from January 7, 1978 covering the then British PM's visit to India said that Callaghan would be visiting Gujarat, that was the home state of then PM Morarji Desai.
"Prime Minister Callaghan, who, came here from Bangladesh and is going to Pakistan on Wednesday, met for several hours today with the Indian leader, and they will travel together during the visit to the west' coastal state of Gujarat, where Mr. Desai was born", the story says.
Read the New York Times story here.
2. The Sabarmati Ashram visitor book
BOOM reached out to Professor Patrick French, who is a historian and author, and who first pointed out that Callaghan and not Johnson was the first UK PM to visit Gujarat.
He directed us to the publicly available guest book at the Sabarmati Ashram. Callaghan visited the Ashram on Jan 10, 1978, home to Mahatma Gandhi and an epicentre of the Indian independence movement.
His entry in the guest book can be seen below.
The visitor book can be found here.
There is no separate URL for Calaghan's entry in the visitor book. Users wishing to verify this may click on the link provided, select the year 1978 and find his entry as the first entry of the year.
3. Statements from Johnson and the British government
In a join press address with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi, Johnson said, "And yesterday I became the first Conservative British Prime Minister to visit Gujarat, your birthplace of course, Narendra".
Boris Johnson is a member of the British Conservative Party, whereas James Callaghan was a prime minister who hailed from the British Labour Party.
In the statement, Johnson did not mention that he was the first British prime minister to visit Gujarat, but rather that from the Conservative Party.
This can be found here.
Furthermore, the British government, in a press release on April 17, said that Johnson would be the first British prime minister to visit Gujarat just before his impending visit to India.
This has since then been updated to say that this was the first visit by a Conservative British prime minister to Gujarat. BOOM was able to fetch a cached version of the previous press release, and it has been archived here.
The current live press release can be found here.
|The original press released||The updated press release|
|"This will be the first time a UK Prime Minister has visited Gujarat, India's fifth largest state and the ancestral home of around half of the British-Indian population in the UK."|
"This will be the first time a UK Prime Minister from the Conservative Party has visited Gujarat, India's fifth largest state and the ancestral home of around half of the British-Indian population in the UK."
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