Name-calling is never a good idea, not even in politics. Jyoti Basu discovered it after calling the BJP “barbaric,” Narendra Modi seems to have quietened down, and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s learning the lesson now with the UK Independence Party (UKIP).
For some reason, India figures large in the imagination of the brash new kids of British politics. For years now, the UKIP has been hammering on about India, some of the noises positive, some negative and some plain confused.
Now the UKIP’s lived up to everyone’s expectations and done very well in recent local government elections, which are being billed as a test for the 2015 general election. Unwisely dismissed by Cameron as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” in 2010, the UKIP’s votes came at the expense of Cameron’s Conservative party.
A total of 34 English councils went to the polls, and the coalition that rules at the centre lost heavily. The Conservatives lost 10 councils and 335 councillors, while 123 Liberal Democrat councillors were defeated. Labour did passably well. But the star of the day was the UKIP, which gained 139 councillors with a 23% share of the votes.
Whether or not UKIP has forced through a four-party system is unclear because when it comes to voting, the British tend to be conservative with a small ‘c’. Nevertheless, it is likely that the UKIP will end up playing a similar role in the run up to the 2015 general election as the Lib Dems did in 2010.
The UKIP’s two main areas of campaign are Europe and immigration, and it seeks to link them. On Europe, its agenda is simple: it wants Britain to come out of the European Union (EU), and wants a referendum. On immigration it blames Europe. Both areas are of strong interest to India. The problem is that it sees everything through a Eurosceptic prism — even India.
The party’s first utterances on India were quite positive. Its manifesto for the 2010 general election said, India “will soon become the second largest world economy and Britain should not be tied to the dead political weight of the European Union, but retain its own friendly trading and cultural links.” But little has been heard since then to indicate they stand by that distinction.
In February this year, UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage saw a kind of a global conspiracy behind the numbers of Indian students in Britain. Strangely, he blames ongoing EU-India Free Trade negotiations, particularly India’s position on Mode 4, which would give Indian skilled workers the freedom to live and work in any of the EU nations.
Mode 4 is part of the WTO’s General Agreement Trade in Services (GATS) that came into force in 1995. It covers the ‘movement of natural persons.’ But Mode 4 has nothing to do with foreign students (which falls under Mode 2). Yet, Farage took issue with Cameron’s invitation to legitimate Indian students to study in Britain and find work. This is what he said, “…under EU trade deals, something called Mode 4 access is automatically given which is all about moving workers, not just goods and services between countries. I strongly suspect that the EU-India trade deal has played a big part in David Cameron’s open invitation.”
“It is of course far better for Mr Cameron to say, ‘come to Britain we’d love to have you’ to an audience in India than to admit back home to his voters that this is another aspect of EU policy he simply cannot control.”
If nothing else, Indian diplomats should brief Farage and his advisers about what Mode 4 is all about and perhaps update him on the EU-India negotiations. They should also be aware that not everybody in the UKIP appears to be on same page. Janice Atkinson, a UKIP member and former Conservative parliamentary candidate, believes, “ The UKIP would like to see us take control of who we issue visas to. Why can’t we discriminate in favour of the brightest students from India and China who want to work and study here instead of low-skilled eastern European migrants whom we have no control over?”
This, too, is a factor that New Delhi should note: that, by focussing on the problem of Eastern European immigrants — which resonates on the doorstep — the UKIP has taken away the heat from Indian migration.