Written by Arushi Gupta.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s second visit to London to attend the Commonwealth Heads of the Government (CHOGM) meeting reflects signs of a strenghtening India-UK partnership. India and the U.K. share a great relationship with $13 billion of bilateral trade and India being the third largest investor. As it was the first time the two countries were interacting with each other away from the European Union, the visit further strengthened the relations between the two countries.
Unlike Modi’s previous international visits this one was considered unsuccessful by the Indians living in the UK. Indians constitute fifty percent of the Commonwealth’s total population. Modi was greeted by massive demonstrations that reflected the deep fractures in the civil society. The rape of an 8 and 17 year-old in Kathua and Unnao respectively and the discrimination by the government against Sikh minorities infused anger among the protesters that seem far more divided than ever before. The failure of the government and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to address these issues and punish the perpetrators reflect the inability of the government to take a decision fearing the loss of a vote base that might affect the party in the upcoming 2019 national elections.
Why was the visit so important? The CHOGM 2018 came at a time when India is looking to grow its economy and requires new arenas and platforms where China is not a member and Britain is looking to renew its interests with the historical partners as it prepares to move away from the European Union.
While the Commonwealth will also be looking for a successor to the British monarch, it is a great opportunity for India to be a leading partner. Considering, that India is seeking a permanent position in the United Nations Security Council it is the absolute chance for the country to shine.
First, India’s active engagement in the country was important for the United Kingdom to revive the Commonwealth. More so, the Indian government is also making continuous efforts to improve India’s role in multilateral organizations like the Commonwealth.
It was the first time that India had attended the CHOGM since 2010. After so many years of absence, Modi’s attendance sends out a significant message to London. India’s presence this time was crucial for Britain, as the country is facing the uncertainty following Brexit and requires new trade partners.
Second, India was never really part of the Commonwealth given its colonial roots, despite being the founding member. The presence of Narendra Modi for CHOGM reflects his inclination to build a stronger foreign policy and renewed trade relations with the United Kingdom. The transcontinental membership in the Commonwealth is likely to help India diversify its trade and investment opportunities. The visit of Narendra Modi comes with a huge boost for the UK economy; the two countries signed a new Tech partnership which will contribute to the making of thousands of tech jobs in the UK.
With the government of Theresa May endorsing a free trade deal with India as its global ambition, the visit was certainly essential. However, one should remember that a free trade deal will only be complete when Britain relaxes visa rules for Indians, which in this trip was not agreed.
Third, and perhaps the most important reason is the expansion of China. The participation in the CHOGM was extremely important for India given the role played by China in the world and the Indo-Pacific region, in particular. The Commonwealth is the only major international organisation in which China is not a member. The 53 members spanning over five continents in the interlinked world play a pivotal role in forming long-term strategic goals and strengthening bilateral relations. While the Commonwealth will also be looking for a successor to the British monarch, it is a great opportunity for India to be a leading partner. Considering, that India is seeking a permanent position in the United Nations Security Council it is the absolute chance for the country to shine.
While the Summit has largely been successful, the real significance revolves around how well the two countries can contribute to each other economically and what position India holds in Britain. In this visit, the two countries did end up signing a number of agreements on defence cooperation, cyber security, skill development and chemical weapons. The most important agreement on visa liberalisation remains elusive despite several attempts from the Indian side.
Arushi Gupta is a researcher working on foreign policy and domestic politics of India. Her interest revolves around socio-political developments in and around India. She tweets @aarushi_07. The views expressed in this piece are personal and do not represent any organizations the author is affiliated with. Image Credit: CC by Number 10/Flickr.