42.The UK’s history with India has a double-edged role in the modern relationship. It is both at the root of the countries’ deep ties, and a source of tension. Addressing the UK Parliament in 2015, Prime Minister Modi referenced the “debts and dues of history”, along with “the comfort of familiarity” in the relationship. One of the darkest chapters in the countries’ shared history was the April 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, when UK forces killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in northern India. We asked the Foreign Secretary in October 2018 whether the Government would offer an apology to mark the 100th anniversary of this atrocity. He said that he would “reflect” on this. In March we put the same question to Minister Field, who told us that the Government was “trying to find a way in which we can express our very deep regret”. However, on the anniversary of the massacre, the Government stopped short of a full apology, citing possible “financial implications” as one of its reasons. Instead, the Prime Minister said that she “deeply regret[s] what happened”. A former Indian High Commissioner to the UK wrote that this formulation was “not good enough”. FCO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Simon McDonald told the Indian media that a stronger statement could still be made later in the year. We also received evidence calling for greater acknowledgement of Indian soldiers’ role in the First and Second World Wars. A recent Indian project, supported by the UK High Commission, to commemorate the role of Indian soldiers in the First World War is an example of an initiative that builds understanding of the countries’ shared history and can help to heal wounds.
43.The Government should do everything it can to ensure that the past does not act unduly as a constraint on the present-day relationship. We welcome recent efforts to acknowledge publicly and commemorate Indians’ role in the First World War and hope that this will inspire further similar initiatives. There is little excuse for failing to issue an apology for atrocities such as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. The lack of clarity around the decision is particularly unhelpful. The Government missed an important symbolic opportunity by failing to issue a full apology on the 100th anniversary of the crime, and should rectify this without delay. The FCO should work with other departments—and with the Indian authorities—to find further ways to explore and commemorate UK-Indian history.
44.The UK is home to 1.45 million people of Indian heritage, making up 2.3% of the population. The two governments have described this group as a “living bridge” of personal and professional ties. The diaspora is a factor attracting Indian businesses to the UK, and is a potent diplomatic resource. Sir James Bevan told the Committee that it was a “secret weapon” for its ability “to understand, to influence and to access networks that the official British machinery would not otherwise have”. However, the UK has not done enough to draw upon the Indian diaspora. In 2013, David Cameron created the role of UK–Indian Diaspora Champion, charged with increasing links between the Government and the diaspora, but this position was not renewed under Theresa May. We received evidence calling on the UK to set up a council of people of Indian origin to advise the British High Commission; to increase diaspora involvement with royal and ministerial visits to India; and to engage diaspora communities outside London in a “national conversation” about UK-India ties.
45.The diaspora is a hugely important resource in developing the UK’s relationship with India. Movement of people plays a crucial part in these ties—without easy movement between the UK and India, there can be no living bridge. Improvements to the UK’s visa processes, as set out above, would help build and make best use of diaspora links. There is a limit to how far the UK Government can intervene in organic people-to-people ties, but symbolic gestures can be important in building trust and signalling the UK’s commitment to building a closer relationship. The FCO should do more to work with the diaspora, promoting talent from the community into bespoke roles aimed at engaging with the Indian business and policy communities. This could include reprising the role of Indian diaspora champion, and appointing an advisory council made up of members of the diaspora and others with relevant expertise. The FCO should set out the steps it will take in its response to this report.
46.The UK has more diplomatic posts in India than any other government, with eight missions, compared to five each for the next-highest countries. Despite this network, our evidence cited failures in communication around UK policies towards India. Attendees at a private roundtable of business representatives told us that the stream of UK ministerial and business delegations visiting India lacked strategy and coherence, while some witnesses suggested that the UK lacked sufficient presence in India’s smaller cities. On a recent visit to India, Sir Simon McDonald said that after Brexit the UK would devote more resources to “key relationships” with countries such as India.
47.India’s vast size, diversity, and federal structure, with powerful state governments and regional divergences in the business environment, makes the spread of the UK’s diplomatic network especially important. We welcome the UK Government’s expansion of its presence in India over the last decade. However, it will not be sufficient in isolation. Miscommunications play a part in undermining the relationship, pointing to the need for a more strategic use of UK diplomatic resources in India. The Government has said that it plans to invest greater resources in the relationship after Brexit. In its response to this report, the FCO should set out its plans for these resources, in terms of priorities, personnel, location, and funding. As part of this, the FCO should consider ways to enhance UK presence in India’s smaller cities.
134 [Sir James Bevan]
135 , Times of India, 12 November 2015Minister Field said that the UK’s “neo-colonial approach” had in the past been a frustration for New Delhi. Similarly, India’s then-High Commissioner to the UK criticised the dated understanding that many people in the UK have of his country, based on “nostalgia” and “the Raj”. We received evidence recommending a greater emphasis on UK-Indian history in schools, to promote understanding of and interest in the country. [Minister Field]; BuffaloGrid (); The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن (), para 9; , Politico, 4 April 2018
136 Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, , 31 October 2018, Q414
137 [Minister Field]
138 HC Deb, 9 April 2019,
139 HC Deb, 10 April 2019,
140 , Navtej Sarna, The Hindu, 12 April 2019
141 , The Hindu, 11 May 2019
142 Abhijit Mukhopadhyay (), para 8
143 , British High Commission New Delhi, 9 November 2018
144 FCO (), para 101
145 , Government of India, Ministry of External Affairs
146 Chatham House (), para 6
147 [Sir James Bevan]
148 [Dr Reuben Abraham], [Lord Bilimoria], [Ranjan Mathai]; Bridge India ()
149 The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن (); , Prime Minister’s Office, 14 November 2013
150 [Lord Bilimoria]; The British Asian Trust (); The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن ()
151 FCO (), para 8; EPG Strategic Communications Ltd (), para 3.2; , Lowy Institute
152 [Ranjan Mathai]; Henry Jackson Society ()
153 FAC private roundtable, Westminster, 25 April 2019
154 [Devie Mohan]
155 , The Hindu, 11 May 2019
The FCO has announced plans to add Gujarati to the languages taught to its personnel. , 31 October 2018
Published: 24 June 2019