Talks already on ties in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear areas

British Prime Minister David Cameron arrives here on Monday for a three-day visit with a light baggage of outstanding issues that will enable discussions on revitalising India-British relationship on the strategic level.

The dispute over transnational telecom operator Vodafone is being negotiated for an amicable settlement; an air of finality has settled over the combat fighter tender; and, the British have deflected Indian requests for details over the VVIP chopper deal with an Anglo-Italian conglomerate.

This leaves the two sides with space to put a spark in inter-governmental relations that have lagged as compared to France and Germany. In fact, it is symbolic that Mr. Cameron’s interaction with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is sandwiched between one-on-one dialogues he had with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mr. Cameron would have been carrying the banner for all the transnationals present in India when he would have brought up the unfairness of companies being slapped with retrospective taxes as was the case with Vodafone. But the edge has been blunted, mainly due to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s last month’s London visit.

After the Supreme Court ruled that Vodafone need not pay capital gains for the $10.9-billion acquisition of Hutchison, in May, the government changed the law to allow retrospective tax claims. Mr. Chidambaram subsequently said in London that the company and the government were holding talks to arrive at a closure.

Mr. Cameron will be disappointed with the reply he would receive on the fate of the industry-reviving tender for fighter aircraft. Britain is part of a consortium consisting of Germany, Spain and Italy that came second best to French Rafael for a $12-billion Indian tender for fighter aircraft.

Though the British media has been suggesting Mr. Cameron will signal Eurofighter’s intention to step up in case talks with Rafael collapse, this is unlikely in the current situation especially after the British chose to clam up on Indian requests for information on the VVIP helicopter deal.

India also remembers the dud helicopter deal the U.K. forced upon it by Margaret Thatcher as well as its impounding of naval helicopters sent for upgrade after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998. Also Germany, lead country in India for pushing the Eurofighter deal, has let it be known that it would not play the spoiler in the interest of wider Franco-German relations.

Moreover, sensing such a possibility, the French insisted incorporating sentences assuring India’s commitment to the deal in the Hollande-Manmohan Singh joint statement issued last week.

But with Britain still the repository of some cutting edge technology, Indian officials here said talks were on between the DRDO and its British counterparts on cooperation in areas such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear areas. “There may be at some point of time an understanding which would be reached within the ambit of a letter of arrangement that the DRDO has with its counterpart. Similarly in the area of submarines the relevant agencies have been in touch,’’ India’s High Commissioner in the U.K. Jaimini Bhagwati told journalists.

Trade and investment are the bright spots in bilateral ties though this has more to do with the private sector’s efforts. So, when Mr. Cameron meets his interlocutors on Tuesday, there will be efforts to bring relevance in India-British ties on the global stage, especially in view of the gulf in their understanding on current global hot spots such as Iran and Syria, besides Libya in the past.