Language is UK’s unique soft power in India
What the United Kingdom can offer to India that other countries cannot, says the new British High Commissioner to India James Bevan, is the English language. “It’s no longer our language. But it is something we, the UK, have to offer.”
Bevan, who has already visited 20 Indian states even though he only presented his credentials in January, says he was struck by many Indians don’t speak English or don’t speak it well.
“There is mutual benefit in the teaching of English.” And it’s one area where the Americans are not out front. “People see our version of the language as the premier version of the language.”
British envoys are no longer first among diplomatic equals in New Delhi. London is also no longer a capital that is called when the geopolitics of Asia is in the balance. However, Brand UK still has plenty of soft power.
“The bedrock of the UK-India relationship is the one between people, not governments,” says Bevan. And this includes business to business, where things are still going from strength to strength. Indian firms invested more in Britain than they did in all of Continental Europe. “Tata saved our car industry.”
Britain is providing English language training to a million Indian teachers, a programme that will indirectly reach a third of India’s population.
The UK has the largest and among the wealthiest Indian diasporas. “We’re seeing third and fourth generation Indian Britons coming to India looking for opportunities.”
London remains the world’s financial center and will thus be essential to India’s hopes to raise one trillion dollars to build its infrastructure.
Britain remains a leader in media and creative industries, home to the “best football league and the best royal family.”
One consequence of his travels is that Bevan has no doubts the Indian economic story is still going strong.
During a week he spent with an Indian family in Varanasi, Bevan was impressed by a widow who worked as a servant.
Though uneducated and poor, she had nonetheless been able to afford to educate her daughters in an English medium school. “A small vignette of what his happening all over India right now.”