The new incumbent at 10 Downing Street must pick up on the missed opportunities flagged by the UK Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee report, writes India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.
As the famed British philosopher and activist Bertrand Russell lucidly put it - war does not determine who is right, only who is left. What the UK has faced in the last few weeks and months is a form of political warfare that has been quite brutal at times.
However, the time has finally come to firmly focus on what lies ahead, as the final two prime ministerial candidates go head-to-head in countrywide hustings to convince the Conservative Party's 160,000-strong membership. The inimitable Boris Johnson seems to be racing ahead for the moment but whatever the final result, there is one certainty for any new British Prime Minister - the importance of getting the relationship with India on the right footing for the future.
It is about time the UK acknowledged a real paradigm shift in this important bilateral relationship. The House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) makes this very crucial point in its report released to mark UK-India Week 2019 at the end of a year-long Global Britain and India inquiry. India is firmly in what can only be characterised as the Modi era, far removed from the colonial era, and the tie-up needs to echo this relationship of equals to build a truly symbiotic relationship. At a personal level, I have little doubt that both Johnson and Hunt should be more than willing in acknowledging this 21st century reality - given both their past interventions in favour of a post-Brexit Britain forming closer bonds with a rapidly growing India.
But just an acknowledgment will no longer be enough. The new British PM must proactively make more of the potential on offer from the 1.5-million Indian diaspora, who are real ambassadors for both countries. It is important to move the debate along from the outdated context of Lord Norman Tebbit's infamous “cricket test” because the loyalties of UK-based global Indians are no longer in doubt. They bat firmly for closer UK-India ties and it would be a folly to not make more of this “living bridge” - whose value Prime Minister Modi is actively nurturing.
Digital India, another of the Indian PM's focal points in the agenda for India's transformation, resonates in the UK-India Tech Partnership. It is crucial to keep innovation at the heart of the UK-India connect to ensure it can be weaned away from a tendency to be transactional to a truly transformational partnership. While a comprehensive free trade agreement may still be way off until Britain solves its own Brexit crisis, there are many trade and business opportunities to be capitalised on in the meantime. For instance, both countries can be doing a lot more by striking a solid collaboration to go deeper into the African market.
The new British Prime Minister has a complex canvas waiting for him when he steps into Theresa May's shoes towards the end of July. Therefore, articulating his stand on India's major strategic concerns vis-à-vis China and Pakistan will help him secure a reliable partner in South Asia, and indeed on the global stage. The new leader must be seen as tough on issues such as counter-terrorism, climate change and corruption and re-draft the UK's image as a safe haven in connection with some major Indian fraud investigations. The Narendra Modi led government, which offers real stability in its second term following the election sweep, has already made its intentions clear in taking the lead in areas such as renewable energy and cyber security. And, the UK can no doubt be the partner of choice in the global arena.
Modi himself has demonstrated time and again that he thrives upon strong interpersonal relationships. The new UK PM will have a very dependable friend in Delhi, but it will all depend on ticking off this very handy checklist, with personal rapport at the very top the most crucial factor. *Highlights of UK-India Week 2019 here
Manoj Ladwa is the Founder and CEO of India Inc. publishers of India Global Business magazine.