Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak and First Lady of the United Kingdom Akshata Murty being welcomed by the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Ashwini Kumar Choubey upon their arrival at Palam Airforce Airport ahead of the G20 Summit, in New Delhi, Friday, Sept. 8, 2023. (PTI Photo)
A lot of water has flown down both the Ganga and the Thames since August 1947 when Britain left India, independent but partitioned. India is now a bigger economy than the United Kingdom, which has Brexited the European Union, is a key strategic ally to the United States and several other developed nations, and a part of many a crucial global alliance.
Of symbolic value is that a leader of Indian origin, a practising Hindu, is the Prime Minister of England, who would be on his maiden visit since assuming the premier position, to conduct negotiations. All "soft stories" aside, the UK side has already set a clear intent to play hardball on free trade negotiations, saying it was neither a given, nor have a deadline to meet.
India must not let the UK push the attention away from the tricky and thorny issue of migrations, even if the island nation is willing to concede points on business visas, while not apparently keen on tourist, personal or student visas.
India must stick to its stance — and seek back both the Kohinoor diamond and a symbolic reparation payment of Rs 1 per year from UK for its imperial misdoings and multi-century carnage — and allow the British to make a special concession within the Commonwealth to India by giving its people a special status in terms of travel and migration.
India must also not ignore the fact that while Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a very strong footing, it is PM Rishi Sunak, who while under the compulsion to not appear to concede too much to India, is still under a greater pressure to achieve something significant. A free trade pact with India might be Mr Sunak’s ticket to re-election, and we must not give it to him and the Tories cheaply.
India must give the Brits what they deserve, but let us not miss the historic canvas and context, and the contemporary reality — they need us more than we need them.