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UK eats crow, scraps £ 3000 visa bond scheme for Indians

The UK government has finally announced its decision not to go ahead with its Tughlaqian idea of a £ 3000 bond mechanism for 'high-risk' Indians, which was to start this month. It is not the question of the UK eating crow or Indians thumping their chests proclaiming a diplomatic victory of sorts.

London's move was erroneous for Prime Minister David Cameron politically, diplomatically and economically in the first place.

Image for representational purpose only. AFP

Image for representational purpose only. AFP

Politically, Cameron failed to read his own domestic politics before his officials announced a pilot project of levying a £ 3000 deposit from 'high-risk' travellers from six developing countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Ghana and Nigeria — to the UK.

Cameron's own coalition government has cried foul over the so-called pilot project. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has opposed it tooth and nail. Cameron could have saved himself from this embarrassment if he had done his home work well and consulted his allies before announcing the new visa bond scheme in the name of tackling immigration abuse.

The controversy snowballed dangerously for the coalition government in UK when another Liberal Democrat member of the government, Sarah Teather, announced her retirement from parliament at the next general election and cited the visa bond scheme as one of her reasons for quitting.

Diplomatically, the Cameron administration added insult to injury to New Delhi by offering a more liberal visa regime for Chinese visitors at a time when London was on the verge of implementing stricter visa rules for the Indians. This announcement was made by Chancellor George Osborne during his visit to China last month. This is shoddy diplomacy from Britain which calls itself India's "strategic partner". Osborne made this promise to the Chinese after securing a number of business deals during his China trip.

This brings us to the third aspect - how the UK visa bond scheme was erroneous even economically.

The problem with British leaders is that now a days they are making foreign trips as salesmen. In fact, other recession-ridden countries in Europe and even the United States (whose economy is blossoming once again) too are no different. Their leaders visit countries like India and China with a single-point mission objective: to secure business deals worth billions of dollars to lift their sagging economies and generate employment for their own populations.

The Cameron administration announced the scrapping of the visa bond scheme days ahead of Cameron's day-long visit to India on 14 November. Significantly, this will be Cameron's third visit to India since he came to power in May 2010, and second in less than nine months. All these have been bilateral visits, not for attending multilateral events.

In contrast, India's priorities and the world have changed so much that the Indian Prime Minister hardly has a compelling need to go to the UK on a bilateral visit. In the past over eight years, Manmohan Singh has visited the UK only thrice and on two of these occasions he had gone there for attending multilateral events - the Gleneagles G-8 summit in July 2005 and the G-20 summit in April 2009.

The only bilateral visit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has undertaken to the UK in eight years was in October 2006 and that too with heavy economy agenda for the UK-India Investment Summit.

Since that visit eight years ago, nothing dramatic has happened in India-UK economic ties. This is evident by the bilateral trade figures of $ 15 billion in 2012-13 which is no big deal.

Scant prime ministerial visits from India to the UK are not the only indicator of the UK's diminishing importance in Indian scheme of things. (In contrast, look at India's engagement at the highest levels with countries like Japan, Russia, China and the US and you will get an idea of what robust diplomacy is all about.)

Another very powerful indicator of a country's importance for India is who attends the Indian Republic Day Parade as chief guest. Only one British Prime Minister has the distinction of attending the R Day Parade as chief guest - John Major, way back in 1993. Before that Queen Elizabeth II was given this honour in 1961.

The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst. His Twitter handle is @Kishkindha.

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