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News: UK PM Boris Johnson has arrived in India on a two-day visit. This brings opportunities to explore ties in trade, investment, high technology, defence, and regional cooperation.
The bitter legacies of colonialism had made it impossible for the two sides to pursue a sensible relationship in the past. But over the last couple of years, India and the UK have begun a promising and pragmatic engagement devoid of sentiment and resentment.
How have the ties evolved over the recent past?
• The India-UK relationship has been on an upward trajectory, more recently due to the conclusion of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in 2021. The agreement has established a 2030 roadmap for India-UK relations.
• Talks on defence-related trade and deepening cyber security were discussed. A new joint cyber security programme is set to be announced to protect online infrastructure in India and the UK.
• UK has agreed to join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans initiative thereby strengthening cooperation in maritime domain.
• In January 2022, India and the UK managed to conclude the first round of talks for an India–UK Free Trade Agreement.
• India and the UK also plan to hold the first Strategic Tech Dialogue, a ministerial-level summit on emerging technologies.
Significance of India-UK relations:
• India is a key strategic partner for the UK in the Indo-Pacific both in terms of market share and defence, as was underscored by the signing of the Defence and International Security Partnership between India and the UK in 2015.
• As far as Indian interests are concerned, The UK is a regional power in the Indo-Pacific as it possesses naval facilities in Oman, Singapore, Bahrain, Kenya, and British Indian Ocean Territory.
• The UK has also confirmed £70 million of British International Investment funding to support the usage of renewable energy in India, which will help in building renewable energy infrastructure and developing solar power in the region.
• India has sought easy market access for Indian fisheries, pharma, and agricultural products besides duty concession for labor-intensive exports.
Hindrances and Paradoxes:
• India’s lingering post-colonial resentments and the UK’s unacceptable claim for a special role in the Subcontinent generated unending friction. The consequences of Partition and the Cold War made it harder for the two countries to construct a sustainable partnership. Although, recent times have provided new basis for mutually beneficial engagement.
• Pakistan also has been one of the major obstacles in the bilateral relations of India with Britain. Britain’s advocacy of Pakistan has always been a matter of concern for India. Unlike the US and France, which are committed to an “India first” strategy in South Asia, the UK remains torn between its new enthusiasm for India and the inertia of its historic tilt towards Pakistan.
• The domestic dynamics of Britain have also impacted the ties. While the Labour party was initially considered to be empathetic to India while the Conservative party was not. Now, the Labour party has become rather hostile on India’s internal matters, including on Kashmir.
Britain remains the fifth-largest economy, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, a global financial hub, a centre of technological innovation, and a leading cyber power. It has a significant international military presence and wide-ranging political influence.
• India must try harder to leverage these British strengths for our benefits.
• The forthcoming visit of the British Prime Minister to India signifies the importance of India’s role in the dynamically changing global order as the latter prepares itself to host multiple foreign leaders in the upcoming months and the G20 presidency in 2023.
Having said that, India meanwhile has become supremely self-assured in dealing with the UK; with the Indian economy set to become larger than Britain’s in the next couple of years, it is and shall be no longer defensive about engaging Britain.