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India-UK Bilateral Relations

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July 09, 2024

Why in news?

The Labour party won in the recent UK elections, which throws up new challenges and opportunities for the India-UK relationship.

What are the pillars of India-UK relations?

  • Historical connections – The British East India Company established control over India in the 18th century, culminating in British Crown rule after the 1857 rebellion.
  • The colonial period profoundly impacted India's socio-economic and political landscape.
  • Political relations – At the International Atomic Energy Agency’s general conference in 2022, India backed AUKUS although it was opposed by Russia and China.

Aukus, is a trilateral security partnership for the Indo-Pacific region between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

  • The UK government commits to support India's permanent membership of United Nations Security Council.
  • Trade relations - As of 2023, the UK is India's 14th largest trade partner for goods and 3rd for services, while India is the UK's 12th largest overall trading partner.
  • India is the second largest foreign investor in the UK.
  • The Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO) was inaugurated aimed at boosting two-way bilateral investments.
  • Defence - India is among the top importers of UK defence equipment. 

Exercise Name

Military

Frequency

Ex Ajeya Warrior

Army

Biennial

Ex Konkan

Navy

Annual

Ex Cobra Warrior

Air Force

-

Ex Indra Dhanush

Air Force

-

  • Education – It is an important pillar as envisaged under India-UK Roadmap 2023, which was released in 2021.
  • Since 2025-16, number of first year enrolment of Indian students in the UK universities have been increasing.
  • Under UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) launched in 2005, Britain’s universities collaborate with Indian partners and send UK students to India.
  • ScienceScience and Innovation Council (SIC), is the apex body to review overall bilateral scientific cooperation between the two countries.
  • It is being held once in two years alternatively in India and the UK.
  • Health – India-UK bilateral cooperation in mitigating the effects of Covid-19 Pandemic has been significant.
  • UK-based AstraZeneca and Serum Institute of India had developed Covishield vaccine.
  • Climate change control – The India-UK Green Growth Equity Fund is attracting institutional investments into India's renewable energy, waste management, electric mobility, and environmental sectors. 
  • Nuclear cooperation - In 2010, both nations signed a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Declaration to promote and facilitate nuclear trade and collaboration between their scientific institutions.
  • People to people connect – The Migration and Mobility Partnership (MMP) Agreement was signed in 2021 to allow swift movement of working professionals.
  • In 2022, Young Professional Scheme was announced to provide 3000 visas every year to graduates to get 2-year visa to live and work in either country.
  • Diaspora – The UK has a large Indian diaspora of 1.864 million as per 2021 Census and forms 3.1% of the total population of UK.
  • As per the census, 3.7 Lakh persons holding Indian passport.

In 2024, as many as 26 Indian-origin UK politicians have been elected to the new UK parliament, including outgoing UK PM Rishi Sunak.

What are the challenges in India-UK relations?

  • Historical legacy – Legacy of British colonial rule in India creates a backdrop of distrust and historical grievances that can occasionally influence diplomatic relations.
  • A Parliamentary Standing Committee of India noted in its report to seek the return of Kohinoor diamond, which is currently embedded in the crown of British monarch.

The 108-carat Kohinoor diamond was presented to the then British monarch, Queen Alexandra, in 1850 after the Anglo-Sikh wars, in which Britain gained control over the Sikh empire in the then undivided Punjab.

  • Trade imbalances – There are issues in concluding a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries.
  • UK’s protectionist measures – They have stringent labour and environmental standards for bilateral trade.
  • BREXIT challenge - Changes in visa and immigration policies may impact the mobility of Indian professionals and students.
  • Frictions in foreign policy - Differences in foreign policy, especially regarding issues like Russia, China, and climate change lead to different stances in global arena.
  • Climate issues - India will likely face tougher negotiations on climate from a Labour government, which has repeatedly cornered the Tories for deviating from the UK’s 2030 net zero goals.
  • Controlling extremists – There are increased activities of anti-Indian elements in the UK.

What lies ahead?

  • Use post-Brexit opportunities – It opens the potential for enhanced bilateral trade agreements with the UK, while also requiring adjustments to new trade and investment conditions.
  • Strengthen economic ties - Promote a balanced trade relationship by addressing trade imbalances and reducing barriers.
  • Encourage mutual investment opportunities and create conducive environments for businesses.
  • Promote strategic dialogue - High-level strategic dialogues to manage and align divergent foreign policy interests.
  • It should also focus on areas of common interest such as regional stability and global governance.
  • Improve visa and immigration policies – This may facilitate easier travel for students, professionals, and tourists.
  • Enhance cultural ties - Foster people-to-people contacts through cultural exchanges, educational programs, and tourism initiatives.
  • Collaborate on global issues - Strengthen counter-terrorism efforts through intelligence sharing and joint operations.
  • Support joint research and innovation in green technologies and climate adaptation strategies.  

References

  1. Economic Times| New challenges and opportunities in Indo-UK ties
  2. HCILondon| India-UK Relations
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