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October - November 2006


Indo-British Relationship

by Krishan Ralleigh

Let us not at this stage talk of India’s economic progress and the need of keeping its economy open to the world market. That message has been well drummed in by David Cameron and George Osborne in the following pages of this magazine. The Tory leaders who visited India recently seem to have learnt a lot, and said a lot.

But let us look at the attitude of the British media, British establishment and some British members of parliament towards India.

“Worlds collide in Bombay slums”, ran a headline in the Times of September 6th, the day after the arrival of the Tory leader and his team in India. The story, dispatched by Ashing O’Connor, was about David Cameron’s visit to children living in a slum area of Mumbai. It so happened that there occurred a tragic accident in which a woman on her way to work was hit by a minibus carrying some members and journalists in the Tory leader’s entourage. The Times correspondent thought it a story big enough to be given almost a full page commenting on slums, poverty, traffic chaos, and behaviour of the Indian crowd. What David Cameron said in his meetings with different groups in Mumbai became almost irrelevant after this sensationalised story of the tragic accident.

It seems that the British media almost ignored what this potential prime minister of Britain said about India’s economic progress, Indo-British relations and a changing face of friendship between the two countries, one the mother of democracy and the other the largest democracy. That is a strong reason for us to report the crucial aspects of speeches by David Cameron and George Osborne to the Indian audience in this magazine.

Coming from the top leadership of the Conservative party, we believe that at last now, both the labour and the conservative leaders have seen the writing on the wall; and the change in their attitude and way of thinking will gradually percolate to not only the junior leaders in their parties but also to the bureaucrats in Whitehall, boardrooms of corporate businesses and the British media, especially the BBC and the Times. But old habits die hard. The charade of ‘greatness’ as in ‘Great’ Britain needs to be dismantled to enable them to be exposed to the realities of the world in 2006.

There are British members of parliament who still find it hard to acknowledge that India has been a democracy for almost sixty years now; and there is rule of law in that country. However, some British members of parliament want self-determination for all fringe groups mushrooming in different parts of India and Pakistan without ever realising that Pakistan had lived under military rule for most of its existence. There is need of enfranchising those who have lost their voice in Pakistan. However, India has had free elections under universal adult franchise and every adult Indian has the power to choose his rulers. However, It is an entirely different story with Pakistan which was an artificially carved out state, created without any self-determination by the people of British India. There were no elections, no referendum to determine whether the people of India wanted a separate state at all. It was created by imperious chicanery of British imperialist government led by the forefathers of the present Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians. MPs like Simon Hughes along with others who are trying to form a caucus to give self-determination to different regions of India are talking the language of imperialists, the clan we thought had faded away.

The ghost is now well and truly buried by the visit of David Cameron to India. Hopefully, the new Tory party under his leadership will include in its ranks the young British Indian professionals and successful businessmen; rather than wooing the remote cousins of old maharajas and nawabs, or those who servilely write or behave like the old British bureaucrats. Until recently, the British Indians joining the Tory party belonged mostly to this group, and therefore, the Tory party could not win the hearts of British Indians at large.

After almost ten years in opposition, the Conservatives have at last caught up with the changing world in India and the Indians in Britain. This in itself is prophetically significant for the Conservatives. Add to it the clumsiness by which the Labour members of parliament are trying to dislodge Tony Blair, power may be within the reach of David Cameron.

Slums are a reality in any rapidly industrialising country as they were in 19th century Europe. This, hopefully, is a passing phase which will diminish as India becomes more prosperous. Similarly in today’s Britain, deprivation and poverty in immigrants is also a passing phase. The second generation of British Indians cannot be forced to take the back seat.

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