Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (left) and UK Prime Minister Borris Johnson (right).
India being one of the key targets of the UK's post-Brexit Global Britain strategy should be viewed not just as an important commercial interest but also as a rival, reflects a new influential report released on January 11 on the UK's future as a non-member of the European Union (EU).
'Global Britain, global broker: A blueprint for the UK's future international role', compiled by the think-tank Chatham House the Royal Institute of International Affairs, calls on Britain to focus its energies on investing in becoming a global broker to link together liberal democracies of the world and a continued alignment with the EU and its member-states as well as the US.
Other economically significant Asia-Pacific democracies already part of British and US alliance structures such as Australia, Japan and South Korea are also flagged as a priority, given the increasing pressure they face from a "stronger and more assertive China".
"In contrast, some of the original targets of Global Britain' China, India, Saudi Arabia and Turkey may be important to the UK's commercial interests, but they will be rivals or, at best, awkward counterparts on many of its global goals, it warns.
It accepts India's importance to the UK as being "inescapable", given that it is set to be the largest country in the world by population very soon and have the third-largest economy and defence budget at some point in this decade, as also an English-speaking country with a large diaspora in the UK forming the basis of the two countries' deep historical linkages.
However, the think-tank strikes a note of caution over the two countries' shared colonial history proving a stumbling block to the promise of a deeper relationship.
"Developing the relationship with India, a pivotal regional democracy, as part of this shift in British strategic focus will prove a complex task," it points out. "As a result, India is always on the list of countries with which a new UK government commits to engage. But it should be obvious by now that the idea of a deeper relationship with India always promises more than it can deliver. The legacy of British colonial rule consistently curdles the relationship," it notes.
The report also points to India's "complex, fragmented domestic politics", which make it one of the countries resistant to open trade and foreign investment.
It highlights concerns raised by domestic groups as well as the United Nations and other democracy-watchers over a "crackdown on human rights activists and civil society groups" not being actively challenged by the judiciary.
"While giving India the attention it deserves, the UK government needs to accept that gaining direct national benefit from the relationship, whether economically or diplomatically, will be difficult, the analysis notes.
Against this backdrop, the report reflects on the prospect of including India within any new Democratic 10 or D10 coalition of 10 leading democracies at this time as it could make building meaningful consensus on policy or joint actions that much harder.
"India has a long and consistent record of resisting being corralled into a Western' camp. It led the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War and, in 2017, India formally joined the China- and Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the report points out.
"Trying to corral groups of states into new, fixed caucuses is rife with difficulties," it adds.
Instead, the advice is for the UK to use its G7 presidency this year as a prelude to the proposed Summit for Democracy, which incoming US President Joe Biden has committed to hosting in his first year in office.
"The UK should invest in becoming a global broker, leveraging its unique assets to link together liberal democracies at a time of strategic insecurity and engage alongside them with other countries that are willing to address shared international challenges constructively," it notes.
"At a minimum, the UK needs to be a leading member of the group of countries protecting and supporting liberal democracies and standing up for rules-based international collaboration. It can also be a broker helping to connect democratic and non-democratic governments in initiatives to tackle shared global challenges, from climate change to health resilience and equitable growth The world needs less talk and more action. In this sense, an appreciation of Britain as a valued and creative global broker must be earned, not declared," it concludes.--With inputs from PTI