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Cameron’s Victory: ACHHE DIN FOR UK-INDIA TIES?, By Gaurav Kumar Jha, 13 May, 2015 Print E-mail

Round The World

New Delhi, 13 May 2015

Cameron’s Victory


By Gaurav Kumar Jha

(Research Scholar, School of International Studies, JNU)


British Prime Minister David Cameron’s stunning victory could well hold a special import for UK-India relationship, if New Delhi chooses to play its cards well. More so, at a time when critics insist that despite deep-rooted linkages such as educational, language, cultural and cricket, our relationship has plateaued, if not stagnated, as no major agreement has been signed between London and New Delhi in recent years. With both the governments now of a centre-right conservative ideology, are “achhe din” (good days) ahead for two nations?


Belying psephologists forecasts that the vote would be closest in decades, Cameron swept into office for another term with 331 out of 650 seats in House of Commons. The popular verdict for the Conservatives left his Labour adversaries in shambles. Cameron now joins the very small league of Britons, along with Thatcher and Blair, to do so in the last century. Harold Wilson also won twice but not consecutively.


Importantly, throughout this election process, India appeared a prominent factor. Of the 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora - second largest after the US - a record number of ten Indian origin candidates have won out of 59 in the fray including Labour’s Seema Malhotra and Tory MP Rishi Sunak. Priti Patel, who was in 2010 elected as Conservative’s first female Asian Member of Parliament has this time been promoted to Minister of Employment, making her the first female Indian cabinet minister.


Prior to the election, excepting the Labour party that has traditionally been the favourite of Indian-origin voters, India featured well in the poll manifesto of all major parties. In an election, where immigration occupied significant attention in all manifesto (after economic recovery), it was interesting that the party with a pro-reform agenda and tough stand on immigration, the Conservative party, considered ‘nasty’ by many Asians, significantly mentioned India.


“As part of our drive to attract more investment into the UK and increase British exports, we will build on our strong relationship with India, push for an ambitious EU-India trade deal”, read the Conservative’s manifesto. It added that the UK will “support India’s bid for permanent representation on the UN Security Council”. Further it also committed to assist the Manchester Museum, in collaboration with the British Museum, to set up a new India Gallery, and help the Government of India in its endeavours to protect the Asian elephant.


The electoral battle that was hotly contested over entry of high quality skilled immigrant labour force versus employment opportunities for Britons is also historic because of the pro-immigration Scottish National Party (SNP) tsunami that rocked British politics, sweeping 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland and emerging as the third largest party.


Their success will bring a smile among Indian students, currently the second-largest group in country, aspiring to study in the UK. Referring to India as a “priority country”, the SNP had mentioned in its manifesto that bringing Indian students back into Scottish university campuses was its top priority. It had also declared that the party would get Parliament to restart the post study work visa for Indian students as a priority allowing these students to work at least for two years after they finish their education degree in Scotland - something that the Conservatives had junked in the last term.


SNP had argued that after junking of the post study work visa, new entrants to Scottish Higher Education Institutions from India declined substantially by 63% between 2010-11 and 2013-14. They reason that the current four months given to international students at the end of their studies is insufficient time for most to find skilled jobs and to transition to a Tier 2 visa.


A study suggests restricting Indian students’ entry to the UK can prove adverse for British economy. According to British Council’s Education Intelligence service report in 2013, one out of three outbound foreign pupils across the globe will be from India and China by 2024. The report notes that “By 2024, it is expected that there will be 38.5 lakhs outbound mobile higher education students globally, up from 30.4 lakhs in 2011”. Of these, Himalayan neighbours will contribute 35% of global growth during this period. “Indian students will be the second highest chunk with 3.76 lakh of them travelling to enrol in foreign universities”.


Expressing concern on UK’s immigration policy, SNP supremo Nicola Sturgeon after winning the election said, “In comparison to UK, key competitor countries who offer more attractive post study work opportunities have seen a rise in their numbers of international students”.


On its part, the Conservative Party has this week dismissed that they are going to be against immigration of Indians. It argues that immigration should be based on the economic need of the country and reducing net migration to below one lakh per year will form the basis of their policy. And as the economy and health services are growing, Britain will need a more skilled workforce.


The new government argues that there has been no cap on the number of Indian students entering Britain. “The visa system has also been improved so that Indian students have the safety and security of studying at legitimate educational establishments and not falling prey to criminal gangs running bogus colleges”, stated Conservative Party’s Amandeep Singh Bhogal.


However, after the announcement that Theresa May, UK’s Home Secretary since 2010 and a proponent of rigid immigration policy will continue her work, observers feel that strong anti-immigrant decisions may continue for some time more. The contentious issue of immigrations apart, the UK-India relations are poised to improve in coming times after the end of coalition government in both countries.


Prime Minister Cameron, who headed the Conservative-led coalition since 2010, has consistently invested his energy on India, making three visits, including his first to any foreign country in the same year. After his first meeting with Prime Minister Modi, on the sidelines of the G20 in Brisbane, Australia, last year, Cameron had stressed India was a “top priority” of the UK’s foreign policy.


From seeking a ‘new special relationship’ to offering to ‘Make in India’ Euro fighter Typhoon jets to having one of the biggest diplomatic missions of the world in India, the UK has made serious attempts to strengthen its visibility in India and has made expanding trade (that remains abysmally low) a key objective.


Nonetheless, British efforts to “move the relationship to another level” seem to have left India largely unmoved. It’s been nearly a decade since Manmohan Singh’s 2006 visit that an Indian PM visited the island nation, even though the British PM came here four times during same period (including Gordon Brown’s 2008 visit).


It is thus high time that Modi sets his eyes on the UK and reciprocates the favour.The future must now focus on shared security interests, trade and business, with attention to India’s demand to share technology, particularly in the aviation and defence sectors. If so, good times may not be far for the two historically-connected nations. --INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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