India Foundation Dialogue on The Future of India-UK Relations – British Elections, Brexit & Beyond

India Foundation organised the 38th India Foundation Dialogue on 4th July, 2017 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. The session was themed ‘The Future of India-UK Relations - British Elections, Brexit & Beyond’. The dialogue was a panel discussion with Lord Jitesh Gadhia, Shri Ranjan Mathai, Shri Asoke Mukerji and Shri Ashok Malik and was chaired by Shri Jayant Sinha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Government of India and witnessed an audience of more than fifty people.

“There comes a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. On such a full sea are we now afloat and we must take the current while it serves, or lose our ventures. That is the opportunity that confronts us today when we talk of India and UK,” said Shri Jayant Sinha in his opening address. He said that it was extraordinary that India and UK, though furthest apart geographically, are closest culturally. He stated that India can forge a partnership with UK in multiple sectors that can be quite defining globally, particularly focusing on finance, technology, science and innovation, and mass services. “In finance”, he said, “we have moved forward in interesting ways, an example being masala bonds, used to finance large aspects of infrastructure and other industries, which was initially thought to be very difficult to implement in India.” These masala bonds are important for India since we need debt financing, and they also strengthen London’s position by working with an emerging country. Talking about science, technology and innovation, he said that UK has a cutting edge in technology, with fast development in even Artificial Intelligence. And because of our large IT and BPO sectors, we need that kind of expertise. As UK looks for areas where it can invest and develop other than in the European Union, science, technology and innovation becomes another area for us to really start forth some unique bonds. Coming to mass services, he said that by taking software and AI expertise, we can make mass services like financial inclusion, mass entertainment much more affordable, cheaper and effective. So, expertise coming through UK and being applied in India is the basis on which we (India) can become an entrepreneurial engine for next 60 billion people.

Shri Ranjan Mathai suggested that what we need to do is to take those elements that make a winning partnership and build on them, economic opportunities being the first of them. He said that London is able to mediate, absorb funds from all around the world and then direct them to places where serious analysts can utilise them. He then addressed the issues of national security, terrorism and cyber security. He also said that today we are in an age of populism, nationalism where ideologies differ. But the fact that both the nations are democracies matter a great deal. In conclusion, he said that UK is a country that has changed the most in changing its perceptions towards immigrants but now it has reached a point beyond which it cannot go on indefinitely and we need to respect that and learn to manage our demands from UK. On Britain’s side, they must ensure that Indian people are not discriminated in any way there.

Lord Jitesh Gadhia began by thanking India for its continued friendship with UK and being a source of fresh thinking and ideas to be discussed. On the financial front, he agreed with other speakers regarding the win-win partnership. The question that according to him needs to be paid attention to is, ‘What will happen to London after Brexit? Will it retain its pre-eminent position?’ He further explained that London has 250 foreign banks operating, more than at any other centre. These banks account for 40% of world’s foreign transactions. “There is no room for complacency and there is some serious architecture to be developed around London’s position.”

Shri Asoke Mukerji said that the first reality that we have to understand is that global multilateral system, which was created by UK, USA, Soviet Union, China, and France in 1945 is not going away. Irrespective of a soft or a hard Brexit, UK has a weight as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. For winning the partnership with UK, he focused on four political areas. The first being the use of diplomacy for peace, which he believed can be done by giving an opportunity to a country like India- an Asian country that has never been given such an opportunity since the end of the Cold War. The second area was to make UN peace-keeping more effective as there can be no development without peace. The third was to make India a permanent member of UNSC so that India can also be a decision-maker. The last area was countering terrorism, which is the single biggest challenge to international security. He concluded with the issue of technology, saying that in UN, India has been among the few nations from developing countries to call focus for innovation, incubation and transfer of technology for development. “Focus on technology will play an important role in multilateral aspect of a win-win partnership,” he said.

In his address, Mr. Ashok Malik said that when Britain looks at India today, it needs to understand where it stands in India’s foreign policy because this is a newer, more pragmatic, more transactional India. But, according to him, Britain has, at this point, sent conflicting signals. There are two Britains - one which says that this is a moment for Britain to make the best of its partnership with India for both sides, and the other one which is talking about becoming European Singapore. He said that India is clear on which one it wants to talk to, but Britain needs to take a decision. “The potential for an India-UK economic relationship is actually agnostic to any friendship. There is a natural synergy between Britain’s technology and Make in India, between India’s modernisation and British innovation.” He also mentioned two challenges - market access and agreement on details of international security - in the India UK partnership.

(This report is carried in the print edition of September-October 2017 issue of India Foundation Journal.)

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