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David Cameron took ties with India to a new level as UK PM

world Updated: Sep 13, 2016 17:23 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times
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David Cameron’s enthusiasm for India and the Indian community was apparent from the time he was elected Conservative leader in 2005.(Reuters File)

David Cameron’s announcement on Monday to stand down as MP reminded many of Enoch Powell’s line that all political careers end in failure, but in New Delhi and Britain, he will be remembered as the prime minister who took relations with India to a new level.

Cameron is not yet 50 and has his reasons to quit, but now joins the bench of former prime ministers: John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown - each going their own ways after relinquishing office and politics.

There is always the lucrative US lecture circuit or taking on an international role, but Cameron hasn’t made his plans known yet.

If Blair is remembered as the man who took Britain to war in Iraq, Cameron’s legacy will be of holding a referendum he did not really need to hold, and then failing to convince the British people to stay in the European Union. It is called falling on your own political sword.

But from the Indian perspective, there were not a few regrets when he quit as the prime minister in the wake of the June 23 Brexit vote. His enthusiasm for India and the Indian community was apparent from the time he was elected Conservative leader in 2005.

From the perception that Conservative was the “nasty party” (Theresa May’s famous 2002 words), Cameron wooed the Indian community, appearing at events such as large gatherings addressed by Morari Bapu, or visiting temples with tika on his forehead and gurdwaras with head covered.

Seeking to wean away traditionally Labour-supporting Indian voters, Cameron met with some success in the 2010 and 2015 elections. Soon after taking over as prime minister in 2010, he pushed for a “new special relationship” with India, and appointed Priti Patel as the 'Indian diaspora champion'.

A focus on India was often mentioned by previous Labour governments led by Blair and Brown, but it was Cameron who took relations to a new level, which included lifting in 2013 a decade-long boycott of Gujarat under Narendra Modi after the 2002 riots.

Cameron visited India three times since 2010 and pulled out all stops to make Prime Minister Modi’s November 2015 visit to London a success. During his first visit to India, he delighted New Delhi by warning that Pakistan could not “look both ways” on the issue of terrorism.

Cameron launched the initiative to install a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in parliament square before the May 2015 elections, and often extended Britain’s support to India’s potential membership of the UN security council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Seeking to revive a weak economy, Cameron’s focus was trade with India, which did increase but nowhere near the target of doubling it. Critics say that for all his India focus, he did not move on key demands such as extradition of individuals wanted in India or providing high-end technology to New Delhi.

By 2016, Cameron had clearly become popular with a large section of the Indian community.

Soon after he resigned as prime minister in June, leaders of the Hindu Forum of Britain, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, National Hindu Students Forum and the National Council of Hindu Temples wrote him a letter, hailing his tenure and suggesting that he had been the most Hindu-friendly prime minister in Britain.

“(We) have no hesitation in expressing how effectively you ‘connected’ with our ethics, principles and our ethos of working hard…It is unquestionable that during your period of office, you have established probably the best relationship that the Hindu community and the Conservative party have had to date”, the letter said.

Amid charges that Cameron adhered to a selective view of the Indian community that privileged the Hindu community to the exclusion of Indian Muslims or Indian Christians, he was also criticised for being allegedly influenced by the Hindu-Sikh lobby on the issue of outlawing caste-based discrimination in British law.

For one who remarked before the May 2015 elections 'Abki bar, Cameron sarkar', and 'Achche din aaney wale hai', the political end clearly came earlier than expected, more so when he once committed himself to stay on until the 2020 elections.