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Updated: February 26, 2013 16:21 IST

Navigating the tricky passage to India

Harsh V. Pant
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British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Wednesday.

In his bid to drum up business for the U.K., Cameron has made all the right noises on issues critical to India

Underscoring India’s importance in Britain’s evolving foreign policy priorities, British Prime Minister David Cameron was in India this week for a second time since assuming office in 2010. Though his visit to Jallianwala Bagh has evoked mixed reactions in India, he became the first serving British Prime Minister to pay his respects at the site, describing the massacre as “a deeply shameful event in British history”. He may well have done this for domestic political consumption. Nonetheless, its symbolic importance should not be underestimated. Mr. Cameron is trying to take U.K.-India ties to a new level of maturity and India would do well to respond adequately.

Economic relations were the focus of this visit. Accompanying the British Prime Minister was a large business delegation from the U.K. Mr. Cameron emphasised that both New Delhi and London should remove barriers to cooperation and make it easier to invest in each other.

Signalling to Indian investors his government’s seriousness about the U.K.-India ‘special relationship’, Mr. Cameron has decided to introduce a same-day visa service for Indian businesses waiting to invest in the U.K. He also suggested that there is no limit to the number of Indian students who can study at British universities, and to the number that could stay on and work.

Seeking partnerships

Disenchanted with its special relationship with the U.S. and disillusioned with the overly bureaucratic EU, Britain is now looking to Asia to develop new partnerships. The aim is to use Asia’s economic dynamism to help Britain’s status as a major global economy. The government has decided to inject a “new commercialism” into the work of the Foreign Office. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has been explicit about the use of Foreign Office to drum up business for Britain, using the country’s extensive diplomatic network to lift its economy.

The Conservatives have been clear about India being a priority for the U.K. since Mr. Cameron’s visit to India in 2006 as the leader of the opposition. Mr. Cameron had written fondly of India before his visit: “India is the world’s largest democracy, a rapidly growing economy, a huge potential trading partner, a diverse society with a strong culture of pluralism and a key regional player — a force for stability in a troubled part of the world.” He had suggested that though Britain’s relationship with India “goes deep”, it “should go deeper”.

India and Britain had forged a ‘strategic partnership’ during former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s visit to India in 2005 but it remained a partnership only in name. The Conservatives were keen on giving it a new momentum. The U.K. is the largest European investor in India and India is the second largest investor in the U.K. Indian students are the second largest group in Britain. There are significant historical, linguistic and cultural ties that remain untapped.

But the Labour government’s India legacy was very complex and Mr. Cameron’s government needed great diplomatic finesse to manage the challenges. This was particularly true of the issue of Kashmir where the Labour government could not help but irritate New Delhi. As late as 2009, former Foreign Secretary David Miliband was hectoring India that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute was essential to ending extremism in South Asia.

Traditional approach dropped

Mr. Cameron’s government made a serious effort to jettison the traditional British approach towards the subcontinent in so far as it has decided to deal with India as a rising power, not merely as a South Asian entity that needs to be seen through the prism of Pakistan. Mr. Cameron made all the right noises in India during his first trip in 2010. He warned Pakistan against promoting any “export of terror”, whether to India or elsewhere, and said it must not be allowed to “look both ways”. He has proposed a close security partnership with India and underlined that Britain, like India, was determined that groups like the Taliban, the Haqqani network or Lashkar-e-Taiba should not be allowed to launch attacks on Indian and British citizens in India or in Britain. Despite causing a diplomatic row with Pakistan and David Miliband calling him “loudmouth”, Mr. Cameron stuck to his comments.

More significantly, the British Prime Minister also rejected any role for his country in the India-Pakistan dispute.

In this new phase of India-U.K. ties, economics and trade are likely to dominate. Mr. Cameron has managed to change Indian perceptions about Britain to a considerable extent. If even after this the U.K.-India ties fail to take off, it won’t be for lack of trying by the British Prime Minister.

(Harsh V. Pant teaches at King’s College, London.)

This article has been corrected for an editing error.

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visiting jallianwallah bhag and shedding crocodile tears over the brutal masacre is an eyewash.with a grappling economy to handle british pm seems to be in desperate need of india's bonhomie.

from:  jithin
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 21:26 IST

Currently British economy is in a mess and according to the economist
Krugman the main reason is that Cameron tries to solve economic problems
according to his ideological preconceptions rather than accepted
economic theory. Perhaps Cameron and his party will as a consequence
loose their popularity and power in the coming days.Thus it would be a
mistake to set too much store on his foreign policy pronouncements.

from:  taffazull
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 18:45 IST

Its right move on British part in such changing global economic
scenario,where future hub of economic boom would gradually shift
towards southeast Asia especially India.
It is proud moment for Indian citizen,when British PM expressed regret
over massacre in Amritsar because when General Dyer had reached back to
Britain in 1929,many British people admired him and British government
had conferred many awards to him....

from:  anoop kumar bhardwaj
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 18:26 IST

Mr. Harsh Pant wants us to fall into same animal trap all over again. This visit by the
British PM is basically snake oil salesman selling damaged weapons. It is a classic
exercise in "Vote Bank" politics, especially the visit to Amritsar and Jallianwallah
Bagh. Please note the lack of genuine contrition and quoting Churchill to boot ( one
who always opposed Indian Independence and exemplified indifference to people's
plight during the Bengal famine ). This is a business as usual visit that does nothing
for the comity between the people of both nations.

from:  G Parameswaran
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 17:51 IST

The West boasts of expertise in financial matters and wants to offer
their services to the growing economy in India. Remind me, aren't
these great brains responsible for the mess that Western economies
are currently in; and they have still not found a solution to this
after five years of struggling with the problem.

Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 16:16 IST

I can't understand how student visa and same day visa be equivalent to multi-billion pound weapons deal. I would wish UK sign sourcing deals from Indian manufacturing, Agro products, Service sector deals or Arms-Technology transfer deals or outsource thier weapon manufacture, in return for buying their weapons.

from:  Rajesh
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 15:56 IST

Mr. Harsha, It looks like you have forgotten many negative aspects. Practically, the British are not going to make much out of this trip. This was very much evident when our prime minister made unprecendented remarks about the bribery in chopper deal in front of the media which is unusual.
Also, What do you think the british have to offer us which french or the japanese cannot offer? Britain has lost all its industries except finance and retail.
No crucial weapons deal is going to be offered to british for sure as tories are going to be ousted in the next elections and its going to be labour in power next term which has solid muslim vote bank (pakistan ancestory). This will create big headache to indians as the crucial technology transfer to india might become bargaining chip to gain muslim votes which is not the case with france.
So the bottom line is the british don't have the edge to get crucial and expensive deals.

from:  John
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 15:03 IST

Lets not fall for these tricks. European economy is in a mess. Half the European heads of state have come for a visit in the last few days. They know that India has its share of corrupt politicians and defense and government officials who when paid bribes will sign all their deals and save their economies.

from:  Manoj
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 13:09 IST

while all the veneer is standard diplomatic fare, I believe two tests
are crucial.Britain giving all anti-India political and economic
intelligence it has to Indian establishment and secondly returning
Indian heritage looted during its rule back to India. I have serious
doubt it will do so beyond some sweet sounding niceties.

from:  manish
Posted on: Feb 22, 2013 at 12:19 IST
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