Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s November 12-14 visit to the UK will be the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Britain in nearly a decade. Dr Manmohan Singh was the last Indian prime minister to visit the UK in October, 2006. Since then four prime ministerial visits from the UK to India have taken place, one by Gordon Brown in 2008 and three by PM David Cameron during his first term. The first visit undertaken by Mr Cameron to India at the head of a large, high-powered delegation was within 10 weeks of his becoming Prime Minister in 2010. This was followed by two more visits in February and November, 2013. The four successive visits by UK Prime Ministers to India without a return visit by an Indian PM underscore the importance and significance that the UK attaches to relations with India in political, strategic, economic, defense, energy, education, social and cultural fields.
The UK had imposed a visa ban on Modi in 2002 in wake of the Godhra riots It, however, decided to revoke that decision in 2012, a good two years before the parliamentary elections in India which catapulted Modi to the top position in May, 2014.
The UK was keen on an early visit by PM Modi to London. British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Osborne travelled to India in July, 2014 within a few weeks of PM Modi’s assumption of charge to call on the latter and establish contact with the new Government. Modi and Cameron met in November last year in Brisbane on the margins of the G-20 Summit.
The UK would have liked PM Modi to visit London at the end of last year or at the beginning of 2015. A bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi by British sculptor Philip Jackson at the British Parliament would then have been unveiled by him. Ultimately, this honour fell on Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during his travel to UK in March this year. It was possibly felt by the Indian side that if the prime ministerial visit took place early this year, it would be too close to elections in UK, scheduled for May, 2015. This would be politically incorrect as the visit could be seen to have an impact on results of the election. Finally, the UK elections resulted in an emphatic victory for Cameron’s Conservative Party.
Britain was somewhat disappointed when PM Modi decided to go to France and Germany in April this year. The UK continues to be keen to offer its Typhoon Eurofighter jet for Indian Air Force in place of the French Dassault Rafale jet that IAF has selected.
PM Modi’s engagements after arrival on November 12 will include talks with PM Cameron at 10 Downing Street and a quick stopover at Parliament Square to garland the recently installed statue of Mahatma Gandhi before moving on to Westminster to address members of British Parliament. Although Parliament is not in session, his address is expected to attract a full house. He will wrap up the day with a reception at Guildhall after which he will proceed to Chequers, the country residence of British PM Cameron for dinner and overnight stay.
PM Modi will be hosted to lunch on November 13 by Queen Elizabeth II, an honour no Indian prime minister in recent times has been accorded. All these are indicative of the special warmth of the relationship.
PM will also visit the Tata Motors Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR) factory in London to drive home the point that Indian companies are active economic players, creating jobs and promoting prosperity in whichever country they are located. It is significant that the Tata group comprising of JLR, Tata Steel (former Corus Group), Tetley tea, hotels etc is the largest single employer in the manufacturing sector in UK.
Before leaving for Ankara on November 14, 2015 for the G20 summit, he will visit Babasaheb Ambedkar’s house and unveil the statue of 12th century Indian philosopher Basaveshwara.
The visit comes at an opportune moment for the two countries as both their economies are growing at an impressive pace. This unleashes a huge potential for them to significantly expand their partnership in strategic as well as trade and economic areas.
The UK has extended full support to India’s permanent membership of UNSC as well as to the four multilateral export control regimes viz. NSG, MTCR, Wassenaar Arrangement and Australia Group. A Joint Working Group has been established to monitor developments in Afghanistan and to coordinate positions on the issue. Both countries are strengthening cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism. India is working with Britain for a speedy completion of the India-EU Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement.
British multinationals hope to conclude trade and investment deals worth USD 15billion during the visit. The likely agreements include the sale by BAE Systems of 20 more Hawk trainer aircraft assembled in Bangalore, telecom investments by Vodafone, and the marketing in the City of London of rupee-denominated offshore “masala” bonds to finance housing and railway expansion in India. The Make in India aspect of the British Hawk trainers will also come up for focused consideration.
Discussions on further expanding cooperation in sectors encompassing health-care, education, science and technology, skill development, R&D, infrastructure, civil nuclear energy, green energy, energy efficiency, defence manufacturing, low carbon technologies and cyber security are likely to be high on the agenda. The UK’s strength in the financial sector as well as in the area of innovation and creativity is of great interest to India. Contributing to Modi government’s ‘skills’ agenda and participating in efforts to clean the Ganga will also be discussed.
There are a few outstanding issues which create obstacles in the path to rapid growth in bilateral cooperation. These need to be resolved quickly. Some of these include the heavy retrospective tax imposed on Vodafone (USD 2.6 billion) and on Cairn Energy (USD 1.6 billion), and delay in payment to SIS Live which is reportedly owed GBP 29 million for organising live coverage of the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Issue of visas to Indian students and businessmen which was discussed with Cameron during his earlier visits to India is also likely to be figure high during the forthcoming visit.
PM Modi is likely to reiterate India’s demand to clamp down on functioning of anti-India elements and their raising funds in Britain, and the extradition of individuals such as Tiger Hanif, Ravi Shankaran and Raymond Varley.
The two prime ministers are likely to announce ‘twinning’ of some British and Indian cities, particularly in the context of the Indian government’s plans for ‘smart cities’. Currently, Rajkot is ‘twinned’ with Leicester, which has a large population of Gujarati-origin people.
The UK is among India’s major trading partners, featuring at 18th position among the top 25 trading partners of India. Two-way merchandise trade during 2014-15 stood at USD14.34 billion, a decrease of 9.37% as compared to 2013-14. UK’s share in India’s global trade has gone down from 2.07% in 2013-14 to 1.89% in 2014-15.
According to UK figures, bilateral trade in services (excluding travel, transport and banking) in the calendar year 2013 amounted to GBP 2.2 billion.
The UK is the 3rd largest inward investor in India, after Mauritius, and Singapore with a cumulative equity investment of USD 22.21 billion (April 2000- March 2015). UK ranks first among the G20 economies and accounts for around 9% of all investment into India for the period April 2000 – March 2015.In 2013-14, UK invested USD 3.2 billion in India, more than any other G20 country.
India is among the top five investors in Britain with over 700 Indian companies having invested USD19.9 billion. The UK attracts more Indian investment than the rest of the EU put together.
Interaction with the resident Indian diaspora has become a signature event in most of PM Modi’s foreign tours. Britain with its 1.5 million people of Indian origin will accord an unforgettable welcome to PM Modi at the iconic Wembley Stadium. This 60,000 strong gathering will highlight the “personal” and “people-to-people” nature of PM Modi’s visit. PM. Cameron is likely to personally introduce PM Modi to the huge crowd on the evening of November 13.
Cameron has been steadfast in maintaining that UK is serious about building a strong and ‘’special relationship’’ with India based not only on trade, investment, education, technology, nuclear energy but also on cooperation on strategic issues like counter-terrorism, Afghanistan, cyber-security etc.
Some reports suggest that a few disgruntled elements and disparate groups like members of the patidar community who have been demanding reservation under leadership of Hardik Patel in Gujarat, kashmiris, sikhs, muslims etc are likely to demonstrate against PM Modi on 12th Nov at 10 Downing Street. This is, however, expected to be only a minor blip during the visit which is likely to considerably strengthen and advance the bilateral strategic partnership between India and UK.
(Ashok Sajjanhar is a former ambassador of India and a commentator on foreign policy issues. This article has been written exclusively for India Writes Network)
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