The massive win that Boris Johnson-led Conservative Party scored in UK’s most consequential general election, among other things, augurs well for ties between India and Britain. New Delhi would be considerably comfortable in dealing with Johnson — whom leftist British newspaper The Guardian has called a “sociopathic, narcissistic, glutton for power” — than leftist Jeremy Corbyn whose extreme anti-India posturing alienated most British-Indian voters who have traditionally voted Labour. This isn’t to say that desertion by the British-Indians, a 1.5 lakh-strong influential community, had caused the Opposition Labour to slump to its worst performance since 1935, but the activism shown by Britons of Indian origin against Corbyn’s clique of rancid Left was certainly notable.
This British election was remarkable for more ways than one. The Tories (colloquial for Conservatives) made unprecedented inroads into erstwhile Labour bastions and managed to snatch away working class votes in seats such as Bishop Auckland, Great Grimsby, Workington, Blyth Valley, Bolsover, Stockton South, Darlington, Wrexham as the ‘Red Wall’ crumbled into a heap of dust. These were seats the Labour almost took for granted. The scale of the loss suffered by Corbyn’s party becomes clear when we note that it lost more than 50 percent of the seats it won in 2001.
As conservative British newspaper The Spectator, observed: “Working people have smashed years and years of tradition and laid to waste the nauseating, paternalistic idea that they would vote for a donkey so long as it was wearing a red rosette.”
Part of the reason behind Labour’s pathetic performance is its stance on Brexit. Champagne socialists, Johnson-loathing celebrities and their friends in British media might struggle to understand why the working class deserted the Left but they really shouldn’t act so innocent after stalling Brexit three years since the British working class voted to “leave” the European Union. Johnson’s task was relatively simple. Though the Conservatives, too, had made a hash of Brexit, all he needed to do was to promise that he will end the perennial Parliament deadlock and keep the promise of Brexit.
If that is one reason behind Labour’s woes, the other is Corbyn himself who is now being blamed by his party and thrown under the bus for being “devoid of agility, charisma and credibility” and leading “Labour into the abyss”. Be that is it may, the result is expected to impact UK-India relationship in significant ways.
Corbyn painted himself so far into a pro-Pakistan and anti-India corner over Kashmir and Article 370 that his victory would have most certainly damaged bilateral ties. On 25 September, Corbyn’s Labour passed a resolution in a conference in Brighton that supported “international intervention in Kashmir and a call for a UN led-referendum” along with supporting Kashmir’s “right to self-determination”, sending of “international observers to the region immediately” and “intervention of the party at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).”
This when the British government’s stated position on Kashmir is that it is a “bilateral issue” between India and Pakistan and Article 370 India’s “internal matter”. There were media reports on UK siding with China at the closed-door UNSC meeting on India’s actions in Kashmir but this was later denied by the UK.
If Labour had wanted to purposely wreck Britain-India relations, it couldn’t have done a better job. Its Kashmir resolution prompted perhaps by the influence of powerful British-Pakistani MPs in its ranks, angered India that noted Labour’s “uninformed and unfounded positions” in an MEA statement.
But the British-Indian community felt betrayed and annoyed. One of Labour’s own MPs, Virendra Sharma, who managed to retain his seat amid all the mayhem was quoted as saying in The Telegraph: “The result is a disaster for Labour and a mandate for change. British-Indians have rejected the idea that Britain has a neo-colonial role to play dictating the affairs of other nations.”
While Corbyn’s India policy fell between the twin stools of anti-India bigotry and bourgeois radicalism of the Left that doesn’t like India’s ruling party or its leader Narendra Modi, Johnson was playing it smart. A pre-election poll on British-Indian voters had thrown up 18 percent as the number of voters who were “undecided” and Johnson scheduled a timely visit to London’s Swaminarayan Temple just ahead of the election, announced his intention to work with Modi in his ‘India First’ policy and also promised to visit India in the New Year.
The Tories were once called the ‘Nasty Party’ by British- Indian community but Boris showed greater sensitivity in understanding the impulses of a nation that had once been colonised by the British, and greater appreciation of India’s sovereign rights in solving issues internal to it.
Meanwhile, the Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) diaspora outfit was also doing its bit, rallying community votes against what it said was the Labour party’s “betrayal”. Now that Johnson has won with a thumping majority, there should be a dovetailing of interest between the two nations as he goes about keeping him promise of Brexit.
As the UK goes out of the EU, it will need to strike a better trade deal with India, already Britain’s third-largest foreign investor, and reform its immigration policy to end the trust deficit between two nations that was exacerbated during Theresa May’s tenure. Nearly 900 Indian companies have their offices in the UK and use it as the base for global operations. There should also be a greater understanding between the two nations on counter-terrorism and better dovetailing of security interests.
After all, Britain is the country worst affected by terrorism in EU, according to the Global Terrorism Index while India has for decades bore the brunt of cross-border terror sponsored by Pakistan.
As Manoj Ladwa, CEO of UK-based media house India Inc and an influential member of British Indian community, wrote: “We can… expect both sides to turn up the volume on a trade deal… Specific areas where meaningful progress could be made include defence and security (especially cyber security), data protection protocols, medical tourism, Ayurveda, cooperation in healthcare and education, and enhancing India’s role in the Commonwealth. We will also see the follow through of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s pledge for a comprehensive overhaul of the UK’s immigration system by bringing in an Australian-style points-based system. The Conservatives have been highlighting that this will especially benefit highly talented young Indians.”
During his visit to the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, London, Johnson was accompanied by his sari-clad partner Carrie Symonds. Johnson had mentioned his “personal relationship” with “Narendra bhai” and promised a “truly special UK-India relationship”.
Modi has responded by warmly congratulating the British premier through Twitter. It shouldn't be long before Johnson arrives in India. Notwithstanding some structural impediments in the relationships, Johnson’s stress on a “personal relationship” sits well with Modi’s style of functioning. The Indian prime minister has made personal bond with heads of states a cornerstone of his foreign policy to cut through bureaucratic stasis and trust deficit.
At a time when voters are speaking in unison worldwide against patronising politics of the deracinated Left, Johnson’s retention of the prime minister’s seat with a greater majority should set the tone for a bilateral relationship that is based on mutual respect and understanding.
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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2019 16:14:16 IST