Writing on his blog before his 2006 visit to India while he was Leader of the Opposition in the British Parliament, David Cameron said he was going for “a simple reason: India matters so much in the modern world …Our relationship with India goes deep. But I think it can and should go deeper … I think it's time for Britain and India to forge a new special relationship for the twenty-first century.” Visiting India again this week, this time as Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron went all out to prove his determination to make those words come true. It is no secret that the recession-hit United Kingdom is eyeing India primarily through an economic lens. On his two-city tour, Mr. Cameron made a strong pitch for improving bilateral trade and investment, particularly for India to relax rules on foreign direct investment in legal services, banking and insurance, and in defence manufacturing. Although the joint statement was short on specific economic commitments, both countries agreed to “substantially increase trade and significantly increase investment,” and find ways to double it in the next five years. But the British delegation had at least one substantial achievement to celebrate — the clinching of the Rs.5,100 crore deal to supply Hawk trainer jets to the Indian Air Force and Navy. The document notes the “opportunities for wide-ranging cooperation” in the nuclear field after the signing earlier this year of the U.K.-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Declaration. The Indian interest in attracting foreign investment in infrastructure development was reflected in the joint statement, with both countries agreeing to explore how best to go about this.
With Mr. Cameron determined to woo India, both sides seemed to have deliberately avoided speaking on difficult bilateral issues publicly. If New Delhi reiterated its reservation on the British cap on immigration, it did so quietly. While there has been no change in substantive positions, the atmospherics this time were far better than during the final years of the Labour government under Gordon Brown when David Miliband's tone and comments, particularly on Kashmir, had not been received well. Prime Minister Cameron was careful not to mention the Kashmir issue at all. Unsurprisingly, his candid statements on terrorism emanating from Pakistan against India, Afghanistan, and the other parts of the world, have endeared him to Indians. That the same statements have caused outrage in Pakistan — casting a shadow over President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to the U.K. next week — and come under criticism in Britain, where Mr. Cameron has been attacked for antagonising Islamabad, only goes to show that in diplomacy, you cannot please all the people all the time.