THE inconclusive general elections held in Britain on May 6, 2010 has resulted in the first elected coalition government in the country since 1931 which comes as no surprise, considering that not just in Britain, but in many other countries, with ideological visions getting blurred, a wide range of ideas are shaping up reflecting changed social needs. Does India, once a major constituent of the British empire care? Does it matter to Delhi who resides at 10, Downing Street? The general understanding is no one in India cares any longer who rules Britain. The country no longer appears on India’s radar screen. How does one explain that? British books or journals seldom are on sale in book stores. Has anyone heard of British film stars? It is not, one can assert, because India hates Britain.
The GenNext may not even have heard of Winston Spencer Churchill who said that if Britain left India “it will fall back quite rapidly through the centuries into the barbarisms and privations of the Middle Ages”. On another occasion, he told the then Secretary of State for India, Leopold Amery: “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion!” Indians today would laugh at Churchill. Instead of turning to barbarism, India is on the way to become a Great Power, just as Britain and France were before the Second World War, but without having to exploit and rob the wealth of colonies.
Today India has no inferiority complex and it bears no ill will towards its former ruler. Britain may still remain one of the world’s largest economics, it may be a member of the UN Security Council-where it now has no right to be-it may have amassed hundreds of nuclear weapons but now it seems that the new British Prime Minister David Cameron has woken up to the need to think fresh about India. The youngest British Prime Minister since 1812, Mr Cameron has been quoted as saying that Britain must work towards having a “new, formalised Special Relationship” with India.
It is well to remember that in 2006, he chose India, to the surprise of many, for his first overseas trip as a Conservative Party leader. He has shown wisdom, statesmanship and considerable realism, knowing very well that India is the second largest investor in Britain and there are over 600 Indian companies based in Britain. The trade between the two countries is £ 13 billion a year-not much-but it can grow three times that size if the new government is willing to cooperate. Currently there are 1.8 million Indians in Britain. Not that they are all highly placed-businessman Mittal notwithstanding -but Indian scholars are making it to the best British universities and a few years ago Tatas bought a motor car company manufacturing Jaguars and Land Rovers, employing 16,000 people, for a sum of $ 2.3 billion.
There must be at least four Indian MPs and British Indians have the lowest poverty rates among different ethic groups in Britain, second only to White British natives. Lord Swaraj Paul apart, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister in 2004 he appointed two more Indians, Diljit Rana and Sir Kumar Bhattacharya, to the House of Lords. But for all that, one notices in India, especially among the Middle Classes, a certain indifference towards Britain that is hard to explain. One can ignore it and say times change and so do inter-national relations, but that is no answer. In the early years soon after Independence, India, as a new member of the Commonwealth was almost on the margin, with racially akin countries like Canada, South Africa and Australia staying close to the “mother country”. But even if Britain wants to, it cannot ignore India now. And this will become more evident as the years pass, with India fast climbing the international economic ladder. If Britain is wise, it will recognise this sooner for Indo-British relations to flourish. Britain must stop being the lapdog of the United States and pursue a foreign policy independent of Washington, whether on the subject of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and even Pakistan.
It must treat India not on par with Pakistan, but as a separate South Asian entity whose steady rise to the top nobody can stop. Britain should not even club India with China. One doesn’t need to hark back to the days when Britain thought it smart tactics to support Pakistan on the Jammu and Kashmir issue. India of today is not the India of 1947. Britain has no more role to play in political terms in South Asia, let alone Central Asia and with America’ powers slowly dwindling, both the US and Britain will have to be friendly with India in order to save their oil interest in the Middle East.
Mr Cameron must give the subject much serious thought. If China has to be kept away from Middle East Oil reserves and even from Africa it has to be India to keep the security of the Indian Ocean peripheral countries. Stronger Indo-British ties would make for a win-win future and that is what Britain and India must look forward to. If Britain, as the United States’ junior partner hesitates, then India will of necessity have to turn its eyes northward towards Russia which has long been a steady and ever-dependable friend, while Britain has been shamelessly playing second fiddle to its boss across the Atlantic.
Mr Cameron must wake up. Britain is no more a power; it needs friends and India could be one, if trusted and treated respectfully. There is plenty that both countries share, including a language. More people speak English in India than the natives of the United Kingdom and the United States put together, and if Mr Cameron is looking for friends he won’t be able to find a better one than India. Following the end of the second World War Britain had no choice but to be a supplicant of Washington. If it intends to continue as such and get drawn into situations such as it finds itself today in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan it is welcome to do so. Mr Cameron can claim that he has no other option. He has at least one-and that is , India. But then he will have to assert himself and keep the US at arms’ length. India can-and will-go its own way, come what may. But if Mr Cameron wants to think afresh and seek to build a “Special Relationship” with India, he had better spell it out soon. Only he needs to remember that India-and Indians-have a mind of their own and the necessary strength to apply it. Mr Cameron must think out of the box, if he means well. That is, if he has the courage to do so. India can afford to wait.