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Boris Johnson’s win is good news for India-UK ties


In contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s open hostility, Johnson wants closer ties and has spoken of working with Modi.

I cannot remember a United Kingdom (UK) election that has also been so eagerly (and perhaps, anxiously) watched in India. This is not surprising given the significant business, strategic, and diaspora interests that India has in the UK. India is the third-largest investor in the UK, Indians are the largest employers in the manufacturing sector, and there is a huge and vibrant diaspora presence, with over 1.5 million Indian heritage people living and working in the UK.

The British public have now spoken. Loudly and emphatically. They have voted to get Brexit done, and in doing so, given Prime Minister Boris Johnson the most comprehensive Conservative victory since Margaret Thatcher.

Johnson fought the campaign on the repeated promise of taking Brexit-fatigued Britain out of the European Union by January 31, 2020. This epic result, in the UK’s most significant election in living memory, means Britain will be leaving by that date, and on the terms of the fully emboldened Prime Minister.

The result gives Indian business the certainty they have been calling for; if not the details of what the full-fledged UK-European Union trade deal will eventually look like, the fact that they will need to start adjusting to the post-Brexit challenges as well as opportunities that the UK’s new course will provide. The UK remains a hugely competitive and innovative economy, and though perhaps less a base for expansion into the EU, it will fight hard to be India Inc’s launching pad for newer markets globally, including across the untapped Commonwealth.

Johnson’s win also spells optimistic news for relations with India. In contrast to the open hostility demonstrated by Jeremy Corbyn on issues from Kashmir to engagement with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Johnson has been forthright in his desire to see much deeper relations with India.

During a campaign visit to the world-famous Swaminarayan Temple in north west London last week, Johnson, twice referring to Prime Minister Modi as “Narendra bhai”, talked about standing shoulder to shoulder with India against cross-border terrorism (clearly a reference to Pakistan), supporting the Indian leader in his quest to build a New India, and expressing a strong desire to visit India at the earliest possible opportunity, should he be elected.

We can, therefore, expect Downing Street starting early preparations for what has all the potential for being the most high-profile visit of a UK prime minister to India in recent history. We can also expect both sides to turn up the volume on a trade deal, despite the scepticism in some parts of Whitehall. Specific areas where meaningful progress could be made include defence and security (especially cyber security), data protection protocols, medical tourism, Ayurveda, cooperation in health care and education, and enhancing India’s role in the Commonwealth.

A defining feature of the election has to be the unprecedented activism of the Indian diaspora in standing up to the anti-India propaganda that Jeremy Corbyn presided over within his party, regrettably much akin to the anti-semitism that has plagued Labour all through his leadership.

The India Inc. poll, the first ever of its kind, of British Indian voter intentions, revealed a dramatic 12-point shift away from Labour by British Indians who have stood loyally with Labour. There are detractors already seeking to debunk the influence of the Indian vote.

The relevance of the diaspora, its ability to organise over issues such as Kashmir, and make electoral impact has been fully on show over the past few weeks. It is also testimony to the assiduous efforts of PM Modi in making the diaspora a relevant force in India’s global engagement.

If they weren’t, then why would Johnson spend several precious hours during the last weekend of the campaign visiting Hindu temples to garner support, and follow this up on the eve of voting with an unprecedented letter specifically appealing to British Indian voters to support the Conservatives? And why would Labour politicians seek to counter by putting out leaflets arguing that Hindu values were closest to Labour Party values. So much for secularism in liberal democracies!

But, both by anecdote and now empirically with swings of over 16% against Labour in British Indian heartlands such as Leicester, it is undeniable that British Indians were an important factor and in the conscious of British politicians during this historic election.Boris Johnson’s Conservatives obviously recognised and leveraged the diaspora to their fullest advantage. The results ultimately speak for themselves.

*This article was first published in hindustantimes.