Moving forward

British prime minister David Cameron’s visit to India has been mainly a business trip with an eye on future, though he also had to touch upon an uncomfortable past with a visit to Punjab and an acknowledgement of the shame of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

India and Britain, which have a history of political relations for about two centuries, can not evade issues emerging from the past. The question whether the British prime minister should have more clearly apologised for a terrible excess of the raj may remain open but will not be seriously pursued in the new environment. A visit to India is also important for British political leaders who have to deal with a sizeable constituency of people of Indian origin in that country. Cameron made a gesture in that direction also.

The fact that the template of the emerging relationship is economic can be seen from the strength of the British business delegation that accompanied Cameron, which is the biggest ever from the UK to any country. India, in spite of the recent economic slowdown, is seen as a major source of investment in Britain. The Tata group is now the biggest private employer in Britain. There are also opportunities for British investment in India. Bilateral trade has increased substantially in the recent past. But there is more potential for co-operation in both trade and investment.

There will also be greater strategic co-operation in areas like prevention of cyber crimes. Britain has agreed to liberalise its regulations so that high-tech technology transfer to India will be easier. Both countries have already signed a civilian nuclear energy co-operation agreement and there is hope that it will soon lead to concrete ventures. Britain can also help India in strengthening its defence production capabilities.

Cameron’s announcement that Indian business persons will be issued visa on the same day is a sign of Britain’s keenness to welcome Indian investment. The decision to lift the limit on the number of Indian students who want to study in Britain will remove a major constraint. There are many Indian students who seek higher studies in Britain. British universities are also in need of students. Therefore a limit is in nobody’s interest. Cameroon’s visit should help to expand the mutual economic relationship which at present does not adequately reflect the size of their economies.

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