Opportunities to build closer ties lie within the diaspora communities

Opportunities to build closer ties lie within the diaspora communities
Opportunities to build closer ties lie within the diaspora communities

A British politician discusses the role the House of Lords can play in building closer India-UK ties amidst the ongoing Brexit uncertainties. As elections take place in India and the United Kingdom looks to exit the European Union, it is good time to reflect on how far we have come in relationships that bound us in the past but also shaped our futures. What are the commonalities that we share today and how as UK, the oldest democracy, and India as the largest democracy in the world shape the new world order Since independence, India has demonstrated that a country weary with British rule could find a new energy to drive confidence and spirit into a fledgling democracy, with liberalisation and a fast-growing population. The appetite to be a world player has been a strong thread in the hearts of the many Indian Diaspora that settled around the globe and yet kept a strong relationship with their motherland. It was those that had left that helped inform the possibilities of better economic growth along with the increasing demands by India's population for a better future. I have spent years fostering better business and soft power ties between India and the United Kingdom. Of course, there has been in recent years significant progress in India for business to business engagement, but we are a long way off to ensuring a smooth passage for those that see opportunities there and remain fearful of the significant challenges. In return, Indian businesses see the benefits and ease of setting up offices in the UK and a gateway to Europe and the prospect of 500 hundred million customers a few miles away. So, what can we make of this relationship as we look to the future I, with many, have said we have not nurtured our relationship with India as enthusiastically and energetically as we could have done. UK Governments of all colours failed to put significance or any real importance on the great opportunities that could be found, whilst others particularly from Europe were making their cases and putting energy and effort into shoring up resources on the ground in India, being in proactive dialogue and interactions with politicians and businesses. There has been a complete failure to build on the strengths of the Diaspora communities, what missed opportunities. Both Houses in Parliament can do more. As a member of the House of Lords for around 12 years, I have taken delegations to India and on many occasions, I have received delegations to the United Kingdom, spanning from businesses to professional services to arts, culture and tourism and much more. The question however is of follow up, a weakness that lies at the heart of both countries - the slowness in ensuring dialogue and practical effort is maintained.

It could be that once the UK leaves the European Union, the Government's mind may once again become focused on the trade deals that are so often spoken about and it may be then that our relationship with India will really start to take shape. History has many dark periods that have led to sometimes huge changes in a country's fortune. In reflection, one such event is that of Jallianwala Bagh and the horrendous chapter in both British and Indian history. The one-hundred-year anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which took place 13 April 1919, was so outrageous that it led Winston Churchill in a House of Commons debate on 8 July 1920 to say “it is an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, an event which stands in singular and sinister isolation” That event was a big factor in the demands for a free India becoming an ever-closer reality, as people were reviled and angry as hundreds lay massacred and thousands suffered horrible injuries on a day that was of celebrating Vaisakhi, with thousands peacefully gathered at Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar. I was born in Amritsar and the pain of this part of all our history has no doubt shaped the way I view events around the world, a driver for fighting injustices and standing up for the rule of law. There is no doubt in my mind, and that of the many I know, that whilst there was strong condemnation in the House of Commons, there was very little of that from the House of Lords. In wishing to build far stronger ties between India and the United Kingdom, the issue of an apology should be dealt with. It will demonstrate strongly that an action so awful was roundly condemned by all at the highest level in the UK and it will help reset the dial on the shape of our relationships going forward. One hundred years on, much has changed, with the large majority of people who chose to settle in the UK from India having contributed both economically and culturally well above the size of their population, remaining amongst the most law-abiding groups in the country, who continue to help forge and foster relationships with India - repeatedly a missed opportunity by the UK. As both countries enter new phases in their journeys, it is on us to help make those relationships stronger and a strong advocate for even closer ties. As a member of the House of Lords, I intend to play my role to the fullest. Baroness Sandip Verma is the Chair of European External Affairs Committee, Former Minister of Energy and Climate Change and Former Minister of International Development.

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