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With Labour friends like these…

india Updated: Jan 27, 2012 01:01 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

Ties between India and Britain live in a warm and comfortable place these days, with PM David Cameron having repaired some of the damage wreaked by the Labour government in its closing days.

But Barry Gardiner, a British MP who chairs the Labour Friends of India group in parliament, is hopping mad because no one from the Indian High Commission in London turned up to listen to a debate on Indo-British trade. In his speech he called the mission “rudderless” and accused Delhi of “downgrading” its ties with Britain.

India House has been without a High Commissioner now for seven months – ever since the last man left in June, the top job has been held by Deputy High Commissioner Rajesh Prasad. A senior diplomat had been assigned to attend the debate but that the man couldn’t make it for some reason.

Had Gardiner done his homework he would have learnt that New Delhi has at last appointed its chief envoy to Britain – Jaimini Bhagwati, a well-regarded economist, is expected to be in his post by the end of February, after the India-EU summit in New Delhi.

It would have saved the MP some steam and his party the diplomatic blushes ahead of an anticipated visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to London this summer (Gardiner also attacked the Congress, saying it had “repeatedly refused to take steps” to end corruption).

Several MPs who attended the meeting have spoken of their shock at Gardiner’s outburst, which they think was unfair and harsh. Why so? First, it is common knowledge that the Indian High Commission in London is badly stretched for manpower. It has only a handful of senior diplomats, and the man on top juggles two demanding jobs.

Second, the system of diplomats having to dash about parliamentary debates has had its day. Most of the proceedings are now shown live on a special parliament channel on television. Maybe Gardiner had a bad day in office. Or maybe he just felt frustrated and ignored.