British Prime Minister David Cameron, accompanied by a 100-strong delegation, began his India visit in Bangalore on Tuesday to “lay the foundation stone for a new and deeper relationship with India,” said sources in the British High Commission.
“The current state of bilateral ties is a bit like a long-standing marriage. There has to be excitement and emotion, a new lease of life and energy. The U.K. [under Tony Bair and Gordon Brown] has not had a relationship with India as we should or could,” the sources said.
The new government in London is eyeing India as one among a handful of countries, where its commercial interests will be especially championed and contracts won. In fact, rounding off his visit to the U.S. last week, Mr. Cameron spoke of appointing a civil servant with expertise in business to head the Foreign Office.
The first mega contract Mr. Cameron is hoping to ink – the spadework for which was done by the previous Labour government – will be for 57 Hawk advanced jet trainers that will top an earlier order for 66 similar jets.
At the meeting with his counterpart Manmohan Singh, Mr. Cameron will exchange notes on the regional situation, with Af-Pak and Myanmar topping the list.
“The discussions will revolve on how to get the best outcome. It should be Afghan-led with the international community gradually playing a smaller and smaller role,” said the sources.
With Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe in town, Mr. Cameron will seek convergence of views on ushering a more democratic polity in the country. While the U.K. has a more robust approach in dealing with Myanmar's military generals that includes sanctions and strong words, India, aware of Myanmar's multi-ethnic composition, wants the West to be “realistic” and adopt an incremental route.
Besides desire to enter the Indian education sector, the U.K. is also hoping for breakthroughs in other sectors such as providing equipment to transform India into a low carbon economy. Also, the British cite a more altruistic motive — “we can't allow India to commit the same mistake, which we have committed for 200 years.”
The U.K. is also keen to work more closely with India at the G-20 level to get it “in a position where it can exercise responsibility and influence.” London is less forthcoming on the visa front, with New Delhi having expressed its reservations on the curbing of immigration even as the U.K. seeks investment openings in India.
“The visit is meant to correct the underachievement in Britain's ties with India. A closer relationship will also help India to engage with the European Union, which it finds a difficult entity to deal with,” the sources said.
Mr. Cameron on Thursday will meet President Pratibha Patil, Dr. Singh, Vice President Hamid Ansari, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj. He will wrap up the day with delegation-level talks with Dr. Singh. It will be followed by signing of agreements.