Need practical approach to build ties with India: British MP

July 25th, 2010 - 7:30 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron By Venkata Vemuri
London, July 25 (IANS) Ahead of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s India visit, a Conservative British MP has cautioned his team against depending on cultural and historical ties alone to build a special relationship with a country where Britons “are about as relevant as the Mughals”.

Jo Johnson, eminent journalist and member of the Public Accounts Select Committee, says Britain should be practical in its approach if the visit is to yield a positive outcome for Britain.

“We can call all we like for a new special relationship but it’s very difficult indeed to actually achieve one. That said, it won’t be for lacking of trying,” Johnson said.

Johnson is part of the delegation going to India Wednesday.

Cameron is leading a 90-member delegation to New Delhi. His ministerial colleagues in the delegation include Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Foreign Secretary William Hague, Minister of State for Universities and Science David Willetts and Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics and Sport Jeremy Hunt.

The business leaders include the head of Confederation of British Industry and senior directors from Rolls-Royce, Standard Chartered, BAE Systems and Balfour Beatty.

Describing India-Britain relations during the Labour years as being in a “strong sense of drift and decline”, Johnson said: “The UK has been losing share of trade in India, it’s been losing share in foreign direct investment and more worryingly perhaps it’s also been losing share of mind.”

Taking part in a discussion on “Aiming for new vigour: The UK in the global economy” at British think tank Chatham House earlier in the week, Johnson said that on the sharing of minds front, Britain’s “psychological importance in the Indian mindset is certainly diminishing” and that “Britishness is a currency of depreciating value there”.

Expanding his argument, he said: “There is still a generation of Indian leaders, the Montek Singh Ahluwalias, the Manmohan Singhs who are Oxford or Cambridge educated who still pay a close attention to what’s going on in the UK.”

“But the generation that’s coming up in a country where the average age is under 25 you know frankly the British are about as relevant as the Mughals and there is really not much cultural resonance anymore and Britain would be making a grave mistake if it thought that it could rely on its ties of culture and history to sustain its relevance,” he said.

Johnson, however, said he did not see any threat to current trade levels between the two countries or Britain continuing to be the “preferred launch pad” for Indian companies. He admitted the “people-to-people” ties were very strong.

But he argued that Britain will have to offer something tangible to India in order to build a relationship like India has with the US “which in 2008 managed to deliver a big game changer in its bilateral relations by opening up civil nuclear trade and civil nuclear material with India”.

On the business front, he pointed out that Britain had been “very ineffective at persuading India to open up the sectors of its economy that we are most competitive in”.

At the same time, he was critical of Britain’s “fragmented way of representing ourselves diplomatically and commercially overseas, certainly at least in India, and our poorly integrated cross-departmental approach to policy also leaves our counterparts very confused”.

Johnson was pessimistic of Britain using issues close to India’s heart as a leverage for improving ties.

“…the UK’s got nothing that it can offer; it’s got no single transformational deal that will really get the Indian elite’s attention. Britain can repeat all it likes that it wants India to join the Security Council on a permanent basis, it can offer to reform the governance of the IMF but in neither case does Britain have the power to do anything about it on its own…,” he maintained.

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