Why India must retaliate against UK £3,000 visa bond
The Indian government will be failing in its duty if it does not give a befitting response to the United Kingdom’s whimsical policy of introducing a controversial new visa bond scheme that would force visitors from "high risk" countries such as India to pay £3,000 (Rs 2.7 lakh at today’s foreign exchange rates) for a six-month visa, which they will forfeit if they overstay in that country.
What should come as a rude shock to New Delhi is the fact the UK has clubbed India with countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the latest policy decision which will come into effect from November 2013.
While coming up with this latest legislation, the UK has pointed out that Australia and New Zealand apply similar amounts between 5000 and 15,000 Australian dollars (£3000-£9000) and 5,000 and 10,000 NZ dollars (£2500 - £5000). It has also pointed out that Australia and New Zealand have similar schemes where financial bonds are applied to visitors in order to mitigate the risk of them overstaying their visa.
Surprisingly, there has been no reaction from the Indian government to the latest fiat from London, which is draconian and discriminatory and harks back to the times when the UK used to be the colonial master of India.
The Indian government, particularly the Ministry of External Affairs, needs to urgently get its act together and give a befitting response to the latest policy decision of the UK which unabashedly puts India in the “high risk” category of illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, New Delhi has kept mum to the latest provocation from the UK saying that it was part of the country’s attempts to set its own house in order on visa issues.
This is double whammy for New Delhi, particularly after the shabby treatment being given to the Indians by the Obama administration as well – another Western country and an ally of the UK in most matters. This concern was duly conveyed to the US Secretary of State John Kerry as he confabulated with his Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid and met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh earlier today.
The latest London missive should rock the India-UK bilateral relationship. If it hasn't, the Government of India and the MEA owe an explanation to the people of India why. It also calls for a thorough review of the India-UK bilateral relations.
It is strange and shocking that the UK has taken such an extreme step even though the two countries have been having a “strategic partnership” since 2004. Obviously, the question is how come the two sides can continue to have a so-called strategic partnership when the UK is heaping this humiliation on India.
The questions that arise from this development can be summed up as below:
1. Did the UK consult India before taking such a step even if it was convinced in its wisdom to bracket India with such “high-risk” nations as Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka?
2. Presuming that the answer to the question is in the negative (and it is the MEA call), what is the Indian government’s response?
3. Will the Indian government show guts to come up with reciprocal measures to put the English in their place? After all, isn't international diplomacy all about reciprocity?
4. Does the Government of India have any plans to fight this draconian policy decision tooth and nail or will it just ignore the development, indicating a meek surrender?
Since no Indian response has come about, this writer is constrained to ask the following questions to the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron:
1. Has the British government forgotten the fact that India is the fifth largest investor in UK and there are around 700 Indian companies in the UK, of which Tata is the largest private sector employer in the UK?
2. Is there any other country in the UK that has such an overwhelming presence in all spheres? Is it not a fact that of Britain’s population of 63.2 million, the population of Indian origin is estimated to be around 1.8 - 2 million and the present Parliament of UK has 8 Indian-origin MPs and 24 Indian-origin Lords, apart from over 180 Indian-origin Councillors elected to Councils across UK?
3. Is it not a fact that over half a million Indians visit the UK as tourists every year and some four lakh UK tourists visit India every year – a figure which is not too short of the number of Indian tourists to the UK? How would London feel if New Delhi were to slap similar measures on the UK visitors?
But then reciprocity is one feature that is invoked among the equals. If India does not come out with a befitting response to the latest British provocation in the name of its immigration laws, it has no right to call itself an emerging power, leave alone an emerging superpower.
Most importantly, the latest red rag from the UK should be enough for India to pull itself out of the current India-European Union talks on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that is already roiled in too many controversies.
But the million pound question is whether the UPA government will have the necessary political will and courage to take on the UK, supposedly India’s “strategic partner”?
*The writer is a Firstpost columnist and a strategic analyst who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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