A £500- million arms deal to sell 60 Hawk jets to New Delhi is reported to be among the business contracts that British Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to clinch during his visit to India, beginning on Tuesday.
The trip has been heavily trailed in the media here with commentators contrasting Britain's waning global influence with the growing importance of India.
“Cameron reaches out to the power and wealth of New India as days of Raj recede,” was the heading of a long despatch from The Observer's Delhi correspondent while a full-page article in The Sunday Times called the visit an attempt to “woo a new superpower”.
Mr. Cameron is leading a large and high-profile business delegation reflecting his government's decision to use British foreign policy more aggressively to promote the country's business interests. Diplomats have been told to put commerce at the heart of their dealings with foreign governments, especially the emerging global economies such as India. There is also a move to fill key diplomatic posts, including at the ambassadorial level, with businessmen.
In a letter to members of the delegation, Mr. Cameron said the visit was an opportunity to demonstrate to India that Britain was “open for business” as it sought to seek an “enhanced relationship” with New Delhi.
“For our part, government ministers on this trip will be stressing the importance of trade and demonstrating to our Indian counterparts how Britain is open for business again. But you have a crucial role, too. In the meetings you meet, places you visit, you can showcase the ingenuity and creativity our country has to offer,” he wrote.
The Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable, who is among the more than half-a-dozen Cabinet ministers accompanying the Prime Minister, said that in the past British politicians went to India with a “wrong attitude”' by harping on the old “sentimental” links.
“In the past, the British have talked about history and sentiment — and then gone there and whinged about the difficulties of exporting whisky. It's become a negative stereotype of the way the British relate to India,” he said.
The BAE systems, which manufactures the Hawks, has a controversial record and was forced to review its business ethics following allegations that it paid secret commissions to win a £43 billion defence contract with Saudi Arabia though it has always insisted that all payments were “lawful.”
The company already has a joint venture with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and is seeking to raise its profile in India on the back of Mr. Cameron's visit. Its Chairman Dick Olver called for British businesses to treat India on a par with America in its importance as a trading partner.