The victory of Tories under the leadership of Boris Johnson is a welcome development for UK-India ties.
The 2016 Brexit referendum gave a narrow victory to those who wanted the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Since then, several versions of Brexit were proposed and discarded. In the good old days, in India, a joke was that if you ask the definition of socialism to five socialists, the number of answers would be six. The same holds true for Brexit. This lack of unanimity resulted in three general elections in the last three years, the latest being fought a few hours ago.
Naturally, the UK was so preoccupied in Brexit-related issues that it hardly had time to focus on world affairs, in general, and on its relations with India, in specific. In fact, there was less engagement between the governments of the two countries. In 2016, the visit of then-UK Prime Minister Theresa May to India was almost a non-event for Indians and media alike, and her strong anti-immigration stand as the Home Secretary, which she re-emphasised in New Delhi, was certainly not conducive to strengthening India-UK ties.
Later on, although Boris Johnson was generally considered a friend of India, a few missteps by his government actually damaged India-UK relations to some extent. Ashok Malik claimed that the UK aligned with China at the closed-door UNSC meeting on India’s actions in Kashmir (which was later denied by the UK). The inability to prevent the August attacks on members of Indian diaspora assembled outside the Indian High Commission and September attacks on the High Commission itself in London also created a lot of bitterness in India.
Boris victory good for India-UK ties
In spite of these hiccups, I would still argue that the Conservative Party’s victory in the election under the leadership of Boris Johnson is a positive development for both India and the UK. The alternative, in the form of Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, would have certainly deteriorated relations between the two countries. The blatant anti-India resolution passed by Corbyn’s party at its Brighton conference in September and statements by him and his colleagues were quite explicit in their intentions.
On the other hand, Boris Johnson expressed his regrets over the attack on the Indian High Commission and during the campaign, he went the extra mile to gain the confidence of the Indian diaspora, the majority of which is traditionally pro-Labour.
Given this political and diplomatic background, it is necessary to reboot India-UK relations. Boris Johnson’s victory gives right and immediate opportunity to do so. First, in all probability, the UK will come out of its Brexit “to be or not to be” dilemma very soon and settle the issue by 31 January 2020. Second, there is an urgent need for a section of the British establishment to shred its colonial mindset and de-hyphenate India and Pakistan. Once this is done, both the countries can find new ways to collaborate, not only on bilateral ties but also on global affairs.
Johnson’s proposal of a point-based immigration system will retain the best talent among immigrants, and this will be taken positively by India. It will resolve one of the most contentious issues hampering relations between the two countries. He has also expressed his intention to visit India soon and start negotiations on trade. Third, his statements on how much he values the contribution of British Indians in the UK, his visit to two most important temples in London during election campaigns have struck a chord with Indians in the UK.
Lastly, the strong convergence between Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi on several issues facing the world, such as terrorism and climate change, will certainly enhance bilateral collaboration on these issues and also provide much-needed strength to address these issues upfront.
The author is In-Charge, Foreign Affairs Dept, Bharatiya Janata Party. Views are personal.