Will or Won’t Britain Brexit? Either Way, India Stands to Gain
As tensions mount in London, how should India respond to this flurry of will-or-won’t-Britain do a Brexit?
Video Editor: Vivek Gupta
Video Producer: Sonal Gupta
Cameraperson: Sumit Badola
As tensions mount in sadda, aapro, aamchi (ie: “our”, in what the Brits would have once called ‘three dialects of the natives’) London, how should India respond to this flurry of will-or-won’t-Britain do a Brexit?
First things first – we’re now the bigger brother of our erstwhile colonial rulers. Where Britain is losing ground, India is gaining. While the UK’s population is ageing, India’s ‘youth bulge’ will help make it the world’s most populous country by 2024. And while the UK’s economy—in 2017 the world’s ninth biggest, measured at PPP—will fall to tenth place by 2050, India’s is expected to climb from third to second, according to the IMF.
No wonder London sees India as a key part of the post-Brexit solution to its looming demographic and economic troubles. One Commonwealth report found that Brexit would provide a ‘fresh opportunity’ for India-UK trade, giving the UK more ‘flexibility’ in negotiating a free-trade agreement once its formal departure from the EU is complete.
Nehru’s Role In India Joining Hands With The Commonwealth
Aah, the Commonwealth – has it now become a potential opportunity from once being a pariah? Even Nehru, who was instrumental in securing independent India’s membership in the association of former British protectorates in 1949, vehemently opposed it at first.
“Under no conceivable circumstances is India going to remain in the British Commonwealth,” he said in April 1947, with the Raj refusing to grant India even dominion status.
By the time independence was won, fully and swiftly, two years later, Nehru had changed his mind. He believed the ready-made network of kindred nations would boost India’s security and economic prospects—though he remained adamant that Indians would never answer to the monarch.
Since the demise of the British Empire, the Commonwealth has persisted, despite its waning usefulness. With 53 members, it remains the world’s third largest international association, after theUnited Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Yet many—including some Brits—consider the far-flung group an arcane artefact of Empire, devoid of real economic or strategic benefit; the Guardian called the annual meeting of member nations the ‘“zombie summit”, a biennial gathering of whimsy that refuses to die’. Others refer to it simply as the ‘British Empire 2.0’.
Indians, who never really bought into the concept despite Nehru’s enthusiasm, have been especially indifferent. Between 2010 and 2018, no Indian prime minister bothered to attend a Commonwealth meeting—until Modi acquiesced to London’s insistent overtures, which included a letter from Queen Elizabeth and a personal visit from Prince Charles.
India Has Nothing To Lose
India has nothing to lose by stepping up its engagement in the Commonwealth. It affords Delhi diplomatic contact with smaller nations it might not otherwise connect with, and is one of the few places where Beijing can’t interfere; the Commonwealth actually ‘gives us a chance to talk to fellow Asian countries without China being in the room’.
At the very least, it provides another global forum for showcasing our strengths. Already Indians comprise more than half the Commonwealth’s total population of 2.4 billion.
A 2018 report credited India with driving increased intra-Commonwealth trade and investment, which it predicted would exceed $700 billion by 2020. With calls mounting for Britain to appoint an outsider to succeed Prince Charles as head of the Commonwealth in 2020, India is an obvious choice to fill that role.
Now, to move ahead, India can encourage, entice, deliberate and be patient with the UK, but it mustn’t back down: there should be no trade deal without visa liberalisation. India should be happy to lend Britain a hand, just as long as they do the same for us.
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