British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s visit to India – his first since becoming Prime Minister – saw the two sides take steps that could strengthen bilateral relations. The Joint Statement issued at the end of the visit said that India and Britain are looking to conclude a free trade agreement by October this year. During the visit, Johnson agreed to step up the number of immigration visas for Indians. This will help break the logjam in the FTA talks and enable the two sides to speed up the conclusion of a deal. Post-Brexit Britain is anxious to reduce its dependence on the EU. Deepening trade with India is seen as a solution to this challenge. The FTA is expected to double India-Britain trade by the end of the decade. The two sides agreed to collaborate in manufacturing defence equipment, systems, spare parts and components through transfer of technology and setting up joint ventures. In addition to discussing strategic collaboration relating to combat aircraft and advanced jet engines, they agreed to work bilaterally and with partner countries to facilitate India’s access to the highest levels of technology. India and Britain also explored cooperation in the field of clean and renewable energy. Britain promised an investment of $1 billion in climate-related projects in India between 2022 and 2026. Enhanced cooperation in renewable energy, including solar and offshore wind power, will not only reduce India’s dependence on oil imports but also help it make the transition to sustainable energy.
Anxious to jumpstart the post-Brexit British economy, Johnson came to India determined to press ahead with the bilateral agenda. He stayed focused on pushing forward bilateral issues like trade and manufacturing. Unlike other western officials who visited New Delhi in recent months, including British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss, who lectured India on the position it should take on the Ukraine crisis, Johnson avoided ruffling feathers during his visit. He kept his counsel to himself, merely observing that “Russia-India ties are historically well-known and “not going to change.” His cautious approach proved fruitful as he was able to keep the focus of his visit on the bilateral agenda.
However, Johnson’s visit to the JCB factory at Vadodara was ill-timed and tactless. Only a day earlier, municipal authorities had used JCB bulldozers to flatten the homes and shops of mainly Muslims in Delhi’s Jahangirpuri neighbourhood. Photographs of him in a bulldozer were insensitive especially since people are yet to recover from the horror of having their lives and livelihoods bulldozed. Johnson’s silence on the ongoing violence against minorities in India was bad enough, he worsened it with his insensitive actions at Vadodara.
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