Two percent of India provides 60% of her food. That 2% is the Punjab, and that land mass is in dire difficulty due to water problems and climate change. India’s largest national security threat is this. Not Chinese incursions into its borders. Not the lack of security of its women. Not the nuclear threat of Pakistan.
I write to you from India following a week of 3 hours a night sleep and 21 hour days. In my Government capacity as Dealmaker responsible for India for UK Trade and Investment, I’ve been accompanying the Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Baroness Verma, on her exhausting, relentless itinerary. Don’t take my word for the schedule – ask the Department!
Delhi, Chandigarh, Amritsar, Delhi, Lucknow, Delhi. I missed Hyderabad on the final leg. We usually finish at midnight and resume again to head to the airport at 0330 for the next flight and the next city.
As the Parliamentarian and son of the Chief Minister Badal noted, it’s taken a British person, a British Punjabi Minister no less, to bring the Punjabi opposing political parties together at a roundtable in a conciliatory manner to focus on the issues facing Punjab and pledge to do their utmost. His words. Irony indeed. But also a reflection that British diplomacy done right, does not need to be patronising, hostile, difficult, embarrassing, counter-productive.
I have been coming to Indo-UK Government meetings since 1999 and have attended just under 100 of them in that time. This was the first time ever I have seen the Indian side treat the British as ‘one of the family’. Of course it helps if you can speak to your audience in their own language – it always has.
So what beyond a warm feeling does Britain offer? Not just in Punjab, but also our visits in Delhi and Lucknow, there was a sense of Indians asking for help but as equals as mature business partners. And Britain of course keen through its companies to provide it. Opportunities exist for capital investment of course, but also contracts which will solve problems of energy provision.
India is a willing business partner. It knows the opportunities provided by growth require it to reach out to those with specialist know-how.
But people of maturity see this only as a relationship of mutual benefit between friends. They do not seek immature labels or gloat in the difference in economic growth and global power. They just get on with business.
So what next? A Gujarati Minister in the Department for Business Innovation and Skills? The Prime Minister appointed Greg Barker as Minister for special responsibility for India. Given the PM’s own focus on this ‘enhanced’ relationship, it would make a lot of sense for Minister Barker to start sharing that responsibility with other British Indian Parliamentarian Ministers. Rapport is key. Britain has an asset in its British Indian Parliamentarians.
So does India need Britain? It’s the wrong question, we’ve moved beyond it. We’re just getting on with preventing climate change and saving the world.