From seeking a ‘new special relationship’ to offering to ‘Make in India’ Eurofighter Typhoon jets, Prime Minister David Cameron has made several statements that were received well in New Delhi, but questions remain about the relationship that is seen to have plateau-ed in recent years.
Soon after coming to power in 2010, Cameron sought a ‘new special relationship’, akin to Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the United States. On the first of his record three visits to India, he even warned Pakistan it could not ‘look both ways’ on the issue of terrorism.
But during subsequent visits by him and his ministers, the focus was overwhelmingly on trade and business, with little progress on India’s demand to share technology, particularly in the aviation and defence sectors. Trade, meanwhile, remains abysmally low.
There is no shortage in London of predictions of 'achche din' for India-UK relations, ambitions and appreciation of India, the Narendra Modi government’s development agenda, or the country’s importance to Britain’s economy, but there is growing uneasiness in Indian quarters about less delivery.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who chose France and Germany as the destinations on his first tour in Europe, is likely to visit Britain later this year. It was Cameron’s government that revoked the previous Labour government’s boycott of Modi after to the 2002 Gujarat riots.
Not a few have noticed that it is nearly a decade since an Indian prime minister visited Britain (Manmohan Singh visited in 2006), while British prime ministers visited India as many as four times during the same period (Gordon Brown in 2008 and Cameron three times).
There has clearly been something of a ‘one-way traffic’ in recent years, even though the 2004 Joint Declaration between the two countries envisaged annual summits. No major agreement has been signed between Britain and India in recent years.
Points of friction between the two countries are likely to remain, such as allowing anti-India forces to function and raise funds in Britain, and inaction on India’s demands for extradition of individuals such as Tiger Hanif, Ravi Shankaran and Raymond Varley.
One of the major aspects of India-UK relations between 2010-2015 was the opening of 1 billion pound-credit line for British companies to invest in India’s infrastructure, and the success of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative.
The Conservative party manifesto had the most mention of India, including support for a seat on the UN security council, as Cameron sought to further the perception during campaigning that his party and his government was the most 'pro-India' among the parties.