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"A vital collection of progressive essays on what a modern India-UK partnership could mean."

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Kamikaze Boris?


Whether the UK PM is headed down a path of national self-harm or one of ultimate glory is a question that hangs heavy over Brexit-bound Britain, India cannot be a bystander, writes India Inc. Founder & CEO Manoj Ladwa.

That question mark at the end of this headline remains a matter of debate in my own mind as I write this. Kamikaze pilots, as we know, were on suicide missions in favour of Japan during World War II and embodied an undefeatable spirit.

An admirable spirit, no doubt, but the self-destruct button associated with such an endeavour has some obvious echoes in Brexit and the British Prime Minister’s current negotiating strategy with the European Union (EU). That the UK is scheduled to leave the 28-member economic bloc on October 31 is the ultimate prize for Boris Johnson, who is bound by the pledge that paved his way into Downing Street. However, the shockwaves that await the country come November 1 are the unknown quotient that no expert or political pundit has been able to accurately predict. To use a good British analogy, blustery showers are certainly forecast.

As Boris goes on a kind of Brexit whirlwind – issuing an ultimatum on the removal of the Irish backstop from the withdrawal agreement before being rebuffed by European Council President Donald Tusk, then turning to Chancellor Merkel and President Macron to try and get the two EU heavyweights on side – the scenario remains just as precarious as it has been for many months. Behind the scenes, Germany and France desperately would not like the UK to crash out of the bloc without of a deal in place, but their doors can remain open for only that long until that looming Brexit deadline.

Beyond the European continent and for countries like India, there is much more at stake here. India’s 840-plus companies that operate in Britain have been waiting and watching but at the same time have not shown any signs of alarm in losing faith in the UK economy.

This entire episode is not just about investments and economic collaboration but also about how the world perceives the UK and its new government. It goes to the very heart and soul of the UK’s hitherto can-do spirit and sense of fair play. Boris’ sheer optimism and bombastic approach to challenges are, to many, infectious and charming qualities but the world is keen to read into the fine-print to detect if this offers a stable and responsible administration or a reckless and impetuous one.

The British PM gives off a persona of being a big picture politician, who wants to create an ever-lasting legacy. If he succeeds in pulling off what seems like a Herculean Brexit mission, at the very least, it would most definitely be his Churchillian Second World War moment. However, the odds currently seem stacked against Boris and even as Brexit fatigue engulfs the country for the moment, what lies in store come November may just be a rude awakening that all those who even forecast it would be hoping against.

Meanwhile, the recent telephone conversation between Boris Johnson and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi offers a telling insight into how this big picture politician is manoeuvring his foreign policy. An important ally like India, a rising economic power in its own right, requires an urgent reset mode on the British end. Yet the Downing Street readout of that conversation gave out none of the macro challenges that were raised by the Indian Prime Minister, including tackling the global threats from terrorism and climate change. In stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s Office in India’s communique, the UK readout read more like a standard narrative of the importance of the UK-India partnership and the need to build it further.

India, under Prime Minister Modi, has a clear strategy of taking the lead on complex global challenges and the UK, as one of its important partners on the international stage, must grasp this reality. The very least being in the form of policies around attracting more Indian students to British universities to ensure the future ambassadors of the UK-Indian winning partnership are well primed for the task that lies ahead for a Brexit-bound nation.

This is where the question mark comes back into play – is the UK truly equipped for its Global Britain agenda or is it headed down an unprecedented path of national self-harm? After all these months, there is more confusion than clarity, an all-too-familiar scenario within British politics. Yet India’s interests in the UK, and with the UK, on the global stage, surely mean that it cannot be a benign bystander.