Bhopal and Lockerbie on the agenda for Cameron and Singh

July 26, 2010

-Vikas Pota is author of “India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally”. The views expressed are his own. -

With his admission last week that Britain plays second fiddle to America, David Cameron has an opportunity to get one over Barack Obama during his much trumpeted first Prime Ministerial visit to India.

That Britain is keen to forge a more strategic relationship with India is not in question. Who wouldn’t? The India of even ten years ago is a much different place to one that I see every time I visit. Whether we’re talking of the new Delhi airport, the Worli flyover in Mumbai, or the ever increasing number of middle class consumers armed with cash, there’s no doubt that India’s on the rise.

 Facts and statistics aside, India’s influence needn’t be solely defined by economics. In real, I believe the biggest influence she can have rests in the realm of global politics.

 Under Tony Blair, the British Government lead the charge to bring India to the top table. As cheerleader, Blair did the unthinkable; he changed the way India was talked about by stating his support for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council for India. Immediately, you saw India being invited to G8 meetings, where the world’s richest nations got together to decide the future course of global events. Like a new student in an old school, India observed attentively and said little.

However, as time has progressed; and as events have benefited India, Manmohan Singh is no longer the new student. He has an edge over Obama and Cameron. His experience in dealing with global finance and economics is proving to be a major strength for India. Not only is India at the top table, but it’s bringing its experience to bear by offering solutions to global problems, like it has with the debate around the imposition of a global bank levy.

But, what I believe is that Manmohan Singh has a lot to gain from this visit. Whilst it cannot openly speak of American double standards, it can certainly use this visit to flesh out some arguments that Cameron may wish to take the lead on.

With the media debate and focus on the release of the Lockerbie bomber during Cameron’s first official visit to the U.S., Singh would do well to point out the double standards being applied. He could rightly claim that Pakistan ought to have the same treatment as Libya, after all there’s compelling evidence that both states were complicit in terrorist outrages in Lockerbie and Mumbai. Do Indian lives matter less to America?

In a similar manner, Cameron ought to take the opportunity to raise the burning issue of Bhopal, especially in the light of the U.S. attitude on BP. The EU, in the past two weeks, has offered to fund a complete survey to assess what needs to be done to make the site safe, which Singh seems reluctant to take up. By making the offer during their forthcoming talks, Cameron would neatly be making the point that America cannot be allowed to berate a UK multinational without dealing with Dow Chemicals over Bhopal.

Whilst everyone speaks of the burgeoning trade and investment relationship, the real champion of the enhanced relationship in this coalition government, surprisingly, isn’t the British Business Secretary but the new Foreign Secretary William Hague, who understands that India’s potential lies in her engagement on multilateral political issues.

I’m sure India will receive Cameron in the only way it knows, with warmth, friendship, and mutual admiration, but he needs to keep in mind that he’s going to be judged on substance, and not style – something he’s often criticised of favouring. This visit offers a defining opportunity, the type that comes along once in a while. Let’s hope David Cameron seizes the moment.

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