India and UK may be looking to cement ties with a major trade deal reported to be in the works, but a major British think tank has warned the Boris Johnson government to consider India as more of a rival that a cooperative partner.
The report, “Global Britain, Global Broker”, compiled by the think-tank Chatham House – the Royal Institute of International Affairs, accepts India’s importance to the UK as being "inescapable", given that it is set to be the largest country in the world by population very soon and will have the third-largest economy and defence budget at some point in this decade.
But it cautions that gaining direct national benefit from the relationship, whether economically or diplomatically, will be difficult for the UK government.
Clubbing India with China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as the “difficult four”, the report says the Johnson government should be more realistic about developing deeper ties with India. “(They) may be important to the UK’s commercial interests, but they will be rivals or, at best, awkward counterparts on many of its global goals,” the report warns.
The think-tank strikes a note of caution over the two countries' shared colonial history proving a stumbling block to the promise of a deeper relationship. "Developing the relationship with India, a pivotal regional democracy, as part of this shift in British strategic focus will prove a complex task," it points out.
"As a result, India is always on the list of countries with which a new UK government commits to engage. But it should be obvious by now that the idea of a deeper relationship with India always promises more than it can deliver. The legacy of British colonial rule consistently curdles the relationship," it notes.
The report also points to India’s "complex, fragmented domestic politics", which make it one of the countries resistant to open trade and foreign investment. It highlights concerns raised by domestic groups as well as the United Nations and other democracy-watchers over a "crackdown on human rights activists and civil society groups" not being actively challenged by the judiciary.
Against this backdrop, the report reflects on the prospect of including India within any new Democratic 10 or D10 coalition of 10 leading democracies at this time as it could make building meaningful consensus on policy or joint actions that much harder.
“India has a long and consistent record of resisting being corralled into a ‘Western’ camp. It led the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War and, in 2017, India formally joined the China- and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation,” the report points out.
(With PTI inputs)