There’s More to India-UK Ties Than Will-Kat Photo-Op Moments

Did Will-Kate visit overshadow India-UK ties that has moved beyond the colonial era, asks Tridivesh Singh Maini.

4 min read
There’s More to India-UK Ties Than Will-Kat Photo-Op Moments

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The India-UK relationship has come a long way in the past few decades, with strong economic linkages between both countries while the influential diaspora played a crucial role. The strongest reiteration of the change in bilateral ties is the support which the English team received from a large number of Indian fans during the final of the T20 World Cup against West Indies.

If one were to examine India’s connections with the UK, apart from Cricket and Chicken Tikka Masala (often dubbed the ‘national dish of Britain’) the Indian diaspora has made its presence felt in virtually every sphere. Twelve percent of doctors in UK are British Indians, though they comprise only 2 percent of the total population (the total population of British Indians as of 2011 was over 1.4 million). In the 2015 election, 10 MPs of Indian origin were elected to the British Parliament.


Economic Ties

In terms of trade and investment, UK was India’s 18th largest trade partner in 2014-2015, and the third largest investor in India from April 2000-September 2015. Total investments were estimated at nearly $23 billion, though there has been a dip in recent years.  Indian investment in the UK has also risen dramatically. In 2014-2015 India invested in 122 countries and emerged as the third largest investor after the US and France. While large companies like Tata and Infosys get much attention, overall there are about 800 Indian companies in the UK. As of 2015, these companies provided employment to over a 1,00,000 people.

UK has also been a preferred destination for Indian students though in recent times there has been a drop following the scrapping of the post study work visa, which gave students an opportunity to work for two years after graduation. London Mayor, Boris Johnson has spoken in favour of a Commonwealth Work Visa, specifically targeted at Indian students studying in UK.

India-UK ties today extend in the domain of business and education. (Photo: iStock)

Political Warmth

What is interesting to note is that in recent years even at the political level, there is acknowledgement of some of the more positive aspects of the relationship between both countries. The intensity of resentment towards a former colonial power has been scaling down.

Today, with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian prime minister to assert that India’s experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too.
PM Manmohan Singh during his speech delivered at Oxford in 2005 after receiving a Honorary Doctor of Civil Law

Former PM Manmohan Singh further stated, ‘Our notions of the rule of law, of a Constitutional government, of a free press, of a professional civil service, of modern universities and research laboratories have all been fashioned in the crucible where an age old civilisation met the dominant Empire of the day’.

Singh was of course criticised by the BJP for these remarks.

PM Modi during his address to British MP’s in November 2015 also stated, “I will only say that many freedom fighters of India found their calling in the institutions of Britain. And, many makers of modern India, including several of my distinguished predecessors, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh, passed through these doors,”

Artist Jagjot Singh Rubal giving final touches to the painting of Prince William and Kate Middleton ahead of their tour of India in Amritsar, on April 9, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Relics of the Past

Interestingly, while covering the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, virtually no Indian papers spoke about the economic exploitation during Colonial Rule, while an article in the British daily The Independent , ‘Prince William and Kate Middleton’s India trip: No amount of fawning media coverage can cover up these  sordid facts’ (11 April 2016) argued,  that  ‘…there is a painful silence on the history between these two countries: one of exploitation, violence and systematic resource extraction. And while all of our attention is focused on Kate and William’s every movement and word, India fades into the background as little more than a piece of stereotypical scenery.’

For any confident country, it is imperative not to remain embedded in the past. India can no longer view its relationship from the prism of colonial rule. Yet, at the same time it is a bit surprising to see a section of Indians besotted by royalty as if they were celebrities or sportspeople. While as dignitaries the royal couple, they   deserve respect and courtesy, it is a bit tough to fathom the obsession with British Royalty in India, when even perhaps Britain itself is not so much in awe of them. Many such individuals are quick to criticise the VVIP culture in India, and servility to the high and mighty but when it comes to British Royalty their obsession is no less.

At a reception organised by the British High Commissioner Designate to celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, also attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a number of individuals were fawning over them and trying to get selfies clicked. To the royal couples’ credit they conducted themselves with dignity and poise and were extremely humble, but it was a bit surprising to see sections of Indian chatterati getting so excited at a time when not only is there a change in the India-UK relationship, but when Indian society itself is going through significant churning.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs)

Also read:

The Royal Visit: William & Kate Play Cricket With Master Blaster

Of Consent, Sexism and Kate Middleton’s ‘Marilyn Moment’

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