Building Bridges: Reawakening UK-India ties Contents

6Delivering on UK-India ties

Shared history

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.134 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.135 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.136 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”.137 However, on the anniversary of the massacre, the Government stopped short of a full apology, citing possible “financial implications” as one of its reasons.138 Instead, the Prime Minister said that she “deeply regret[s] what happened”.139 A former Indian High Commissioner to the UK wrote that this formulation was “not good enough”.140 FCO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Simon McDonald told the Indian media that a stronger statement could still be made later in the year.141 We also received evidence calling for greater acknowledgement of Indian soldiers’ role in the First and Second World Wars.142 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.143

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.

The diaspora

44.The UK is home to 1.45 million people of Indian heritage, making up 2.3% of the population.144 The two governments have described this group as a “living bridge” of personal and professional ties.145 The diaspora is a factor attracting Indian businesses to the UK, and is a potent diplomatic resource.146 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”.147 However, the UK has not done enough to draw upon the Indian diaspora.148 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.149 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.150

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.

Diplomatic networks

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.151 Despite this network, our evidence cited failures in communication around UK policies towards India.152 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,153 while some witnesses suggested that the UK lacked sufficient presence in India’s smaller cities.154 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.155

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 Q1 [Sir James Bevan]

135 Full text of PM Modi’s address to British parliament, 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.Q186 [Minister Field]; BuffaloGrid (GBI0030); The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن (GBI0038), para 9; India in no rush to do a trade deal with post-Brexit Britain, Politico, 4 April 2018

136 Oral evidence from the Foreign Secretary, HC 538, 31 October 2018, Q414

137 Q225 [Minister Field]

138 HC Deb, 9 April 2019, Volume 658, Column 38WH

139 HC Deb, 10 April 2019, Volume 658, Column 309

142 Abhijit Mukhopadhyay (GBI0043), para 8

143 India and UK commemorate fallen soldiers in World War 1, British High Commission New Delhi, 9 November 2018

144 FCO (GBI0015), para 101

146 Chatham House (GBI0017), para 6

147 Q16 [Sir James Bevan]

148 Q81 [Dr Reuben Abraham], Qq134–135 [Lord Bilimoria], Q150 [Ranjan Mathai]; Bridge India (GBI0029)

149 The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن (GBI0038); PM in India: boosting business and community ties, Prime Minister’s Office, 14 November 2013

150 Q140 [Lord Bilimoria]; The British Asian Trust (GBI0034); The Delicate Mind / نازک ذہن (GBI0038)

151 FCO (GBI0015), para 8; EPG Strategic Communications Ltd (GBI0023), para 3.2; Global Diplomacy Index 2017, Lowy Institute

152 Q182 [Ranjan Mathai]; Henry Jackson Society (GBI0040)

153 FAC private roundtable, Westminster, 25 April 2019

154 Q121 [Devie Mohan]

155 Give Pakistan time and space to act on terror, says U.K. Under Secretary Simon McDonald, The Hindu, 11 May 2019
The FCO has announced plans to add Gujarati to the languages taught to its personnel. An Invisible Chain: speech by the Foreign Secretary, 31 October 2018

Published: 24 June 2019