#rd February, 2013
M. Serajul Islam
British Prime Minister David Cameron left no one in doubt through his second visit to India since becoming the Prime Minister of Great Britain that his government would focus on India with importance that it has not so far given to any other country other than the United States. He just completed visit to India was a major effort to bring his country, once India’s colonial master, into greater economic relationship with its former colony with a view to making this relationship an important element in his election strategy in a bid to win re-election in the next general elections in 2015.
Trade, investment, defense and cooperation in education and culture were the key objectives of David Cameron’s visit. To that effect, he led the biggest delegation a British Prime Minister has ever undertaken on an overseas trip. There were 4 Ministers and 9 parliamentarians; representatives of 100 leading companies in the country, Vice Chancellors of reputed universities and other dignitaries in his delegation. The two countries, with Britain the world’s 4th biggest economy and the India the world’s 10th, had a two way trade that was 16.25 in 2011-2012 US$ 17 billion. Despite some recent worrying trend in two-way merchandise trade that has been falling after a 23% growth in 2010-2011, the two sides, following the talks the Prime Minister had during his visit, agreed that the two countries are “on track” to double their two-way trade by the year 2015. At present, UK is India’s third largest trading partner in the EU and the 16th largest in the world.
Two-way investment was another major focus of discussions that David Cameron held in India. Already India is one of the 5 major overseas investors in Great Britain. Nearly 700 Indian companies have US$ 19.9 billion invested in UK; a potential that David Cameron is interested to expand further as a major effort in creations of jobs. The British Prime Minister also held discussions to expand opportunities for British investment in India. So far, British companies have invested US$ 28 billion in India mainly through Castrol, Cairns, HSBC; BP, Vodafone and Stanchart. On this visit, David Cameron held discussions for a US$ 25 billion additional investment in building cities in the 1000 km corridor between Mumbai and Bangalore and eyeing Gujarat as a major investment destination. EU’ decision to lift the 10 year visa ban on Narendra Modi imposed after the 2002 Gujarat riots will help Prime Minister Cameron’s vision to make Gujarat Britain’s “natural partner” for investment. To reach the trade and investment goals for which the British Prime Minister visited India, the British Government has recently revised visa rules to allow Indian businessmen visa on the same day. Visa restrictions have also been eased for Indian students who form the largest group of overseas students studying in Great Britain.
David Cameron’s visit was held in the back drop of cancellation by India on charges of corruption of the deal to buy 12 helicopters worth US$ 750 million from Augusta-Westland; an Anglo-Italian company whose parent firm Finmeccanica is Italian. In his talks with the Indian Prime Minister, he explained that Finmeccanica is an Italian company to isolate Britain from the corruption charges and may have succeeded. The Indian Prime Minister asked for Britain’s help in probing the scandal. In fact, David Cameron succeeded in raising Indian interest in British Eurofighter Typhoons, the next generation jet fighters although India is currently talking with France about purchasing 126 Dassault Aviation SA Raffale planes.
The British Prime Minister did not hide his exuberance in visiting India, something visiting leaders of his stature are not apt to do. He met with Indian superstar Amir Khan and spent time with him together with students of Janaki Devi Memorial College, New Delhi in a new style of diplomacy. While that may have earned him the favour of Indians; he also raised a few controversies, some back home. One was with his visit to Jallinwallabag, the 1919 scene of crime of Brigadier General Reginald Dyer who ordered and supervised the gunning down nearly 400 Indians that included women and children in cold blood while they were in peaceful demonstration. He called it a “deeply shameful act” but fell short of an official apology. He also refused to return the 105 carat and US$ 12 billion worth Kohinoor diamond embedded in the crown of the mother of the current Queen of England, saying that he did not believe in “returnism.” The crown with the Kohinoor diamond is now on display at the Tower of London.
The visit of the British Prime Minister has projected India as a country that holds great attraction for the developed world for economic cooperation. The visit of the British Prime Minister followed in the heels of that of the French President Francois Hollande. These visits have underlined “how Europe’s debt-stricken economies are competing to tap into one of the world’s fastest growing economies.” The Indians had scored major points with the British Prime Minister’s 2010 visit vis-à-vis its nemesis Pakistan. On that visit, David Cameron had openly spoken against Pakistan in a manner that was music to the ears of the Indians. He had identified Pakistan as a country that exports terror. In the face of protests from Pakistan that had said his comments were “damaging the prospects of regional peace “, the British Prime Minister defended his views stating that he considered it appropriate to be frank. His aides defended him on his style as “Cameron Direct” but others were critical of this style in foreign affairs as they thought complete honesty and candor is not always the best foreign policy option.
It appears that David Cameron has taken some hint for this time he did little to annoy Pakistan like he did on his last visit to India. He had a difficult balancing act in this context. The UK together with US is determined to leave Afghanistan by end of 2014 and would need Pakistan’s support in reigning Taliban factions and the Haqqani group to make the UK/US exit successful. Recently, London had hosted the Conference on Afghanistan which was an additional factor for “Cameron Direct” to be less direct on Pakistan although the temptation to do so, given the huge agenda that he had in India must have been great.
In retrospect, David Cameron’s second visit to India highlighted the ups and downs of nations in history. Once the colonial master, Great Britain had ruled India absolutely for its own interests, where it destroyed indigo plantation and cut off fingers of Muslin weavers for its own textile industry among other acts of inhumanity such as the one of killing in Jallinwallabag. The Prime Minister of that same Great Britain was publicly wooing its former colony that must be making the Gods smile. Nevertheless, by his overtures towards India, the British Prime Minister has played the same game with which his country had ruled India for 2 centuries; its famous policy of divide and rule. By overtly choosing India for favour and rejecting Pakistan; he has injected further encouragement to the Indo-Pakistan conflict that has been continuing since the British started it by persuading the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir to take his Muslim majority Kashmir to join India where by the principles it had laid for partition, Kashmir as a Muslim majority state should have gone to Pakistan and Great Britain should have ensured it.
The writer is a former career Ambassador