India should be among 3 giants of the world, says former British PM Tony Blair
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India should be among 3 giants of the world, says former British PM Tony Blair

Blair is in New Delhi wearing two badges: elder statesman for the Raisina Dialogue and social activist for his Generation Global schools project. Yet he remains keenly aware of the state of the world, Britain’s Brexit blues and the future of India’s relations with his homeland.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2019 23:41 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Raisina Dialogue,Tony Blair,former British PM Tony Blair
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair seen interacting with students, at Tagore International School, in New Delhi on Wednesday, January 9, 2019. (Raj K Raj/HT PHOTO)

India is right up there in Tony Blair’s vision of the world. The former British prime minister says, “What I would like to see is India getting to the point where it would be one of the three giants of the world.”

Three decades from now, it would be “logical that the two most populous countries and the United States be the world’s most powerful countries. “India should be one of them.”

Blair is in New Delhi wearing two badges: elder statesman for the Raisina Dialogue and social activist for his Generation Global schools project. Yet he remains keenly aware of the state of the world, Britain’s Brexit blues and the future of India’s relations with his homeland.

The Middle Kingdom tops his global concerns. “The single biggest geopolitical change in my children’s lifetime is and will be the rise of China.” Blair hopes China’s rise will be benign and sees Beijing’s future dependent on a continuing struggle between “reformers and nationalists.” The West will need to keep its powder dry, just in case. And this geopolitical uncertainty is also “why the relationship with India is so important and fundamental to us.”

One part of the West that seems less strong and united than it once was is the country Blair ruled for a decade. Blair has publicly sparred over Brexit with both UK PM Teresa May and the present head of his own Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. He firmly believes Britain must hold a second referendum on whether to stay or leave the European Union.

Blair makes a well-chiseled argument as to why a second referendum is now the only real option left to London. No matter their political hue, all Britons “will eventually come to the conclusion that the only proper way is to reach closure on this issue is go back to the people.” He goes out on a limb: “There is a 50% chance Brexit will not happen.”

Brexit is not about negotiations, Blair argues, it is about choosing between two options. One is to remain within the European common market, but be subordinate to the EU’s rules. The other is to completely break off and suffer the huge costs of severing ties with the region that represents 60% of your trade. May has been trying to find a position between these two. But her compromise deal cannot secure a majority in Parliament. A hard Brexit has been rejected by Parliament. Staying in the common market but under Brussel’s rules is the worst of both worlds. “No other version of the deal exists.”

“You have a Brexit that is pointless or a Brexit that is painful. The choice is between these two and there is no majority for either of these options,” Blair argues. “It makes sense to go back to the people and ask them do you really want to go ahead with this.”

Reflecting his personal interest in the mindset of the world’s young, he notes that 70% of British youth reject Brexit and an equal number of those above 65 years of age support it. “This is a profound generational divide,” he said. “We have to be very careful about making a decision of such magnitude that would alienate the youth of Britain.”

Even if Brexit happens, he says, the close relationship between India and the UK will continue. “Our friends and allies should not worry that our relations with them will change.”

Trade and investment relations with India will remain strong. The two countries are now starting up a technological partnership. “The two sides still share some of the same values and global strategic interests.”

The UK’s feelers about a post-Brexit trade arrangement have been met with pointed Indian demands on immigration. Opposition to migrants being a key precipitant of Brexit, the May government declined the offer. “The issue of immigration is an issue of control,” explains Blair. While Britain was always in control, offers like “visas on arrival” and the like changed public perceptions. “The fact remains we do and will need high quality immigration,” he said. “The Indian community in the UK is among the most respected, committed, hard-working in the country.” Which is why he believes “anxieties about immigration are not about Indians.”

Blair spoke on Wednesday at the Raisina Dialogue in a panel about the “waning of the West”— and is quite vehement he does not believe that the West is doing anything of the sort. “The West is going through a prolonged period of introspection.” He notes the populism of both left and right ravaging many of developed countries. On the other hand, the US remains all-powerful and many predictions of EU collapse have been disproved. Western values remain the most desired by people around the world. “The challenge of democracy is the challenge of efficacy. People worry that the political system is not delivering and when it doesn’t they begin to question the system.”

First Published: Jan 09, 2019 23:41 IST