A couple of roadblocks named Vijay Mallya and Nirav Modi are being shifted to a side towards delivering Roadmap 2030 agreed between the prime ministers of India and Britain to extend ties between the two countries towards brave new frontiers. The two roadblocks have looked bigger than they are: the stuff of strategic and trade ties between two nations must necessarily go beyond two wanted individuals on the run and then in hiding – so far so successfully, and the first more than the second. But they have looked big enough to be the biggest blocks between India and Britain. The popular question is not on any interim trade agreement but when, and whether, these gentlemen will be sent back to India.
The popular question has vigorously been pursued diplomatically. And so it was again over the weekend during the course of Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit to the UK. It needed to be particularly over Mallya who appears to be staying put after India had fought and won its extradition case against him over considerable length and at considerable expense. That was in April last year and there has been no movement of Mallya since. He appears to have slipped through the asylum loophole that his legal team ferreted out for him.
The case for the extradition of Nirav Modi appears more hopeful. Physical extradition that is, not just winning the extradition case.
Over Mallya the Indian government has said, and said again and again, that they are pursuing the matter with Britain; the British say a legal issue has arisen (they are not allowed to comment on asylum applications) and that they are doing what they can. Between the two this is being called a status quo, and status quo it’s likely to remain. “We’ve made our best case, they have given their best assurance,” Shringla told media representatives in London. The Indian government has now left this matter there.
On the other matters (that really matter more) acceleration towards 2030 is on its way. Shringla pointed towards significant convergences developing between India and Britain. Over as immediately thorny matters such as Afghanistan and China, and over building up trade that promises to deliver more than the clichés over promises arising from ‘shared history’ that have crowded this Indo-British space for decades now.
On Afghanistan, Shringla said, both governments have together noted the developing situation with serious concern. They are agreed, he said, that “decisions over power-sharing be based on negotiations and not through military means”. Both governments, he said, are concerned about “use of Afghanistan for radicalism and terrorism”. This may not have been the precise language of UK officials but the two seem to have similar concerns over common issues.
Indian concerns over China around the border are well known, as are British concerns over Chinese ways in Hong Kong. This perhaps does not extend into a convergence of views – the China question is far too complex to allow that – but an extent of overlap does appear to have developed over China. And this is finding some physical convergence through the new UK focus on the Indo-Pacific region. “The UK has come a long way on this issue,” Shringla said. It was telling, he said, that the region is being spoken of as ‘Indo-Pacific’ rather than ‘S Asia-Pacific’. “The terminology has changed,” he said.
It’s over trade that specific advances appear round the corner. An agreement to further trade was reached early this year, the prime ministers put their stamp on it at a virtual meeting in May. Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal is due to visit the UK next month to take that further, followed by a visit from finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to visit India in September, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the UK in October.
These visits are expected to throw up some specific trade arrangements. But between officials and governments, these can be no more than arrangements. The trade, the investment will have to come from business, and of late Indian companies have been far more active over new investments into Britain than the other way round. It’s India as a market that excites British business more, and the Indian government now appears more keen to open more of it to British business.