It’s been barely a day since Narendra Modi arrived in London on his first visit to the UK as Prime Minister of India and it is already clear that this is likely to be a memorable trip.
He has had one round of discussions with Prime Minister David Cameron and spoken at the British Parliament. He will meet Her Majesty the Queen and address Wembley Stadium, with its 90,000 people capacity.
But beyond the glitz and glamour, the most important question is how the trip will further UK-India relations. As is often stated, the two countries have close and historic links. The partnership is deeply rooted in our overlapping histories, cultures and values.
Yet in recent years the focus of both nations has tended to be closer to home. The UK has a considerable question mark over its membership of the European Union; indeed the future direction of the EU has come into focus following a series of difficult – and poorly handled – events.
Similarly, India has had to contend with continual question marks over its borders, and the might of a rising China within its neighbourhood. Yet Prime Minister Modi has called the UK and India “an unbeatable combination”, and it will be interesting to see what comes out of this meeting between the world’s oldest and the world’s largest democracies.
I would suggest there are two particular areas where the two nations can look to make significant gains during the visit; spreading prosperity through economic cooperation and helping to work towards a more secure future.
The UK and India are two of the world’s leading economies. The UK-India business relationship is already strong; bilateral trade is worth around £16.5 billion, growing by almost 50% from 2008 to 2013. Indian companies invest more in the UK than they do in the rest of the European Union put together.
There are many successful Indian firms like the Tata Group, Wipro and Infosys in the UK, and through UKTI and the FCO, the British government is looking to bring the next generation of Indian companies here to invest and grow.
Similarly, the UK is India’s largest G20 investor. Last year, the UK invested $3.2 billion in India, more than Japan and the US, who are ranked 2 and 3 respectively, combined. Since 2000, British companies have invested $20.7 billion in India accounting for 10% of all investment into India over this period
Prime Minister Modi’s government is looking to develop industries like advanced manufacturing, low carbon technology and financial services, all sectors in which the UK excels. India is also investing heavily in its infrastructure. British companies can provide expertise in areas like project management, design, and structural engineering,
Since the Conservatives came into government in Britain in 2010, they have encouraged British businesses to look beyond Europe. Britain has once again found her roots as an outward looking, trading nation that is leading the way in the West in nurturing relations in the East; India will be a vital economy in the 21st century and it is in our mutual interest to work together.
UK exports to India are up by 50% and investment flows freely between the two nations. But there is more that can be done at both ends, including getting UK companies to look at the opportunities in India beyond the obvious centres like Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, and removing misconceptions about the difficulty of obtaining British visas in India.
The UK and India are implementing long-term economic plans to secure prosperity and competitiveness. The current economic partnership is strong, but there is more that can be done to make it stronger still.
A secure future
Earlier this year, it was my pleasure to attend the unveiling of the new Gandhi statue in Parliament Square by India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. Pride of place in the most prestigious location we have in the UK, the statue honours not only the man who led India to independence, but the values he embodies.
Those values – non-violence, democracy, tolerance, human rights, devotion to truth – are today under threat around the world. From regional instability to global terrorism, we face challenges that only a short time ago were unimaginable.
Sadly, both the UK and India have been the victims of terrorism in recent times. From the outrage of 7/7 in London in 2005 to the appalling Mumbai atrocities in 2008; we know how painful it is; but we also know that we cannot allow the perpetrators to succeed in undermining our way of life.
India and the UK must continue to work together to face down these challenges. India is helping to rebuild Afghanistan and plays a leading role in contributing troops to UN peacekeeping missions. India’s is helping to stop conflicts from starting and old ones from re-igniting.
The UK passionately supports India’s bid to be a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and wishes for it to play a greater role in world affairs. This visit can further embed cooperation between the two nations on stopping terrorism, preventing conflict and tackling humanitarian crises.
An unbeatable combination
The excitement for Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the UK has been building almost since the day he was elected, especially among the 1.5 million-strong British Indian diaspora, 900,000 of whom are of Gujarati origin.
It is undoubtedly true that the excitement is shared by the British government. UK Prime Minister David Cameron has already visited India three times since taking office, and there is no doubt that the British government sees India as a vital ally.
If Prime Minister Modi has come to the UK with an ambitious agenda, he will be met very positively. The UK is proud to be a friend of India. My only concern is that India may not – mistakenly – be as interested in working with the UK. However, if he is open to further diplomatic, economic and security-based cooperation, this should be his most productive visit to a foreign nation yet.
The UK and India are fortunate to share so many things; from the rule of law and love of democracy and cricket to the English language. At this uncertain time, they face many of the same challenges; and through working together they will be in a better position to overcome them.
Lord Dolar Popat is a former UK Minister of the Crown and Government Minister for Business and Transport