UK and India in 2013: A relationship of equals

UK and India in 2013: A relationship of equals

The year was off to a good start when David Cameron announced that India had been chosen for the largest-ever overseas trade delegation by a British Prime Minister.

"India is going to be one of the leading nations in this century and we want to be your partners," was his loud and clear message during the tour in February.

The partnership is clearly on track with the UK and India among the top investors in each other′s economies. India emerged as the second largest investor into London alone as a result of the investment fervour generated by the 2012 Olympic Games in the city.

It also brought in a large chunk of the £2.5 billion additional foreign investment into the UK since the Games and Indian projects in 2012-13 are estimated to generate £24 million in gross value added to London′s economy over the next three years.

The UK′s well publicised aim to double its bilateral trade with India by 2015 is backed up by Indian plans to increase its bilateral trade with the UK to £24 billion.

Britain prides itself in being the most popular business destination in Europe for Indian companies -given that of 1,200 Indian companies in the European Union, 700 are in the UK. And Tata Group companies, including Tata Motor-owned Jaguar Land Rover and Tata Steel, are often in the news for their major investment boost to the British economy, creating thousands of jobs.

But like any close relationship, this one has not been without its minor hiccups over the year. The controversial plans to include India on a list of so-called ′high risk′ countries from where visitors were to be made to furnish £3,000 visa bonds as collateral until their return was an overwhelming PR disaster. It exposed the divide within Britain′s own coalition Cabinet, with the Liberal Democrat business secretary Vince Cable urging common sense to prevail. On the Indian side, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma was understandably rattled: "How can a country that is a strategic partner be categorised as a high-risk country, in the bracket with some of the others " he questioned, during a visit to London in June this year.

While the issue simmers on the backburner as finalised details of the scheme are yet to emerge, there remains a lot to celebrate as part of the British PM′s ′enhanced relationship′ pledge.

The UK-India development partnership has already helped deliver real results with nearly 2.3 million people lifted out of poverty in rural areas in the last five years.

This development programme made its logical transition from an aid-based relationship to a mutual, partnership on critical global issues. The decision to end the UK′s £280million aid programme for India may have divided opinion in both countries, but the broader message was not lost as international development secretary Justine Greening put it: "It′s time to recognise India′s changing place in the world."

It is this evolving aspect that makes the India-UK relationship both ′special′ and ′enhanced′ -the two key words used to define the age-old bond. But at its very heart, it all boils down to a mutually beneficial business ethos and that is where this relationship is gradually edging towards: a truly equal partnership.

Aditi Khanna is the senior editor of India Inc.

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