Boris Johnson's victory bodes well for India

Boris Johnson's December 12 victory is good for India-UK strategic ties
Last Updated 24 December 2019, 09:51 IST

The protracted uncertainty over Brexit that haunted Britain seems to have ended with Prime Minister Boris Johnson's big election gamble paying off with a "stonking mandate", a development that augurs well for UK-India strategic ties, as it offers continuity in the bilateral relations.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned to power with an even bigger majority for the BJP in May, his British counterpart Johnson won a landslide mandate to implement his central "Get Brexit Done" pledge by January 31 deadline.

Johnson took over from Theresa May at 10 Downing Street in July after a bruising leadership struggle due to repeated failures by the former prime minister to get her so-called EU divorce bill through Parliament. But Johnson faced similar frustrations in the House of Commons with his "new and improved" EU Withdrawal Agreement due to the realities of a minority government.

He took a gamble with the first pre-Christmas polls in the UK's history for nearly a century, which paid off with a 364-seat haul, based largely on his central "Get Brexit Done" pledge.

Addressing a victory rally in London, Johnson hailed a "new dawn" which "unarguably" broke the Brexit deadlock and called for closure on the subject.

While his win puts Britain on course to finally exit the 28-member economic bloc by the January 31 deadline, it also sets in motion closer ties with India – not least if Johnson is to be relied on his own campaign pledges to "Narendrabhai".

"I know Prime Minister Modi is building a new India. And, we in the UK government will support him fully in his endeavour," he declared, as he appeared adorning a tilak at the famous Swaminarayan Mandir in London, just days before the election.

"British Indians have played a vital role in helping the Conservatives win elections in the past. When I told Narendrabhai (Modi) this, he just laughed and said Indians are always on the winning side," he claimed, which may be even more true this time than in the past, given the Opposition Labour Party's crushing defeat in its traditional heartlands.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had angered sections of British Indian voters over the party's perceived anti-India stance on Kashmir.

Prime Minister Modi was one of the first few leaders to congratulate Johnson on his re-election with a tweet, which was followed by a phone call during which they resolved to continue working closely on issues such as trade, security and defence and climate change.

The Johnson-led team's decision to revive the post-study work visa has already had an impact on Indian student numbers, which registered an impressive 63 per cent hike this year over the previous year.

However, it remains to be seen how some of his election pledges play out, including a special visa for international doctors from countries like India and a new Australian-style system to level the playing field for Indian migrants vis-a-vis those from Europe.

The latest visa figures released by the Office for National Statistics also reflects the UK's continued popularity among Indian holidaymakers, with more than 512,000 Indian nationals being granted tourist visas during the same period – a nine per cent increase compared with the previous year.

Much of this hike was probably down to the Cricket World Cup in June this year, which may have seen Virat Kohli's men being knocked out early but the Indian cricket fans stayed to cheer on an England win in July.

The World Cup high towards the middle of the year also coincided with back to back India Days being hosted in the UK Parliament and the financial hub of City of London.

A new 40-million pounds Fast-Track Start-Up Fund, supported by both the UK and Indian governments, to invest in Indian start-ups focussed on emerging technology was among some of the highlights during that phase, as the UK's Department for International Trade (DIT) revealed that bilateral trade between the two countries was now valued at more than 20.5 billion pounds per year.

But beyond business and trade, this year marked a series of events to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev.

Both the economic and cultural aspect of the relationship were in focus during the royal visit to India in November by Prince Charles, who not only celebrated his 71st birthday this year but also became a new grandfather earlier in the year to baby Archie – the son of Prince Harry and former actress Meghan Markle.

The couple have had a tough year as they both went on to sue English tabloids for invasion of their privacy.

Those cases will continue to play out well into the new year as will the ongoing extradition cases involving fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi and liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya.

Modi, who remains behind bars at Wandsworth prison in south-west London, is scheduled for his extradition trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London in May 2020.

Mallya remains on bail after he won the right to appeal against his extradition order in the High Court in London, an appeal which will be heard in February next year.

(Published 24 December 2019, 08:56 IST)

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