Foreign Policy Watch: India – EU

India-UK relations: A new shine to old ties


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Paper 2- India-UK ties


As Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosts British premier Boris Johnson this week in India, the moment is ripe to turn the expansive new possibilities — in trade, investment, high technology, defence, and regional cooperation— into concrete outcomes.

Background of the India-UK ties and  paradoxes

  • Legacies of colonialism: The bitter legacies of colonialism had made it impossible for the two sides to pursue a sensible relationship in the past.
  • India’s post-colonial engagement with Britain has been riddled with multiple paradoxes.
  • 1] India’s post-post colonial resentment and UK’s claim for special role: Delhi’s lingering post-colonial resentments and London’s unacceptable claim for a special role in the Subcontinent generated unending friction.
  • The consequences of Partition and the Cold War made it harder for Delhi and London to construct a sustainable partnership.
  • The important role played by the US: It was the US that first recognised India’s rapidly-growing relative weight in the international system.
  • At the turn of the millennium, Washington unveiled a policy of assisting India’s rise.
  • This was based on a bipartisan American consensus that a stronger India will serve US interests in Asia and the world.
  • Over the last two decades, it has led to a quick transformation of US relations with India.
  • 2] Washington is setting the pace for Delhi’s relationship with London:  At the dawn of Independence, India saw London as the natural interlocutor with an unfamiliar Washington.
  • Today it is Washington that is setting the pace for Delhi’s relationship with London.
  •  3] China’s role in shaping India’s relations with the West: For Washington, the strategic commitment to assist India’s rise was rooted in the recognition of the dangers of a China-dominated Asia.
  • London in the last two decades was moving in the other direction — a full embrace of Beijing.
  • Once the American deep state decided to confront Chinese power in the late 2010s, London had to extricate itself from the Chinese Communist Party’s powerful spell.
  • As the US unveiled a new Asian strategy, Britain followed with its own “Indo-Pacific tilt” that helped secure the region against China’s muscular policies.
  • 4] Historic tilt towards Pakistan: Unlike the US and France, which are committed to an “India first” strategy in South Asia, Britain remains torn between its new enthusiasm for India and the inertia of its historic tilt towards Pakistan.
  • But India is confident that Pakistan’s relative decline in the region is bound to make it a less weighty factor in India’s bilateral relations with Britain.
  • The question of Pakistan brings us to the fourth paradox—the domestic dynamics of Britain that have tended to sour ties with India.
  • Delhi has figured out that the interconnected politics of India and Britain — shaped by the large South Asian diaspora of nearly four million — can be cut both ways.
  • 5] Making best of historic ties:  If the Tories are romantic about the Raj, nationalists in India bristle at the British imperial connection.
  • Yet, together they are constructing a new relationship between India and Britain.

Better outlook for bilateral ties

  • As the two sides make a determined effort to transcend the paradoxes, the regional and international circumstances provide a new basis for mutually beneficial engagement.
  • Over the last couple of years, Delhi and London have begun a promising and pragmatic engagement devoid of sentiment and resentment.
  • Having walked out of Europe, Britain needs all the partners it can find and a rising India is naturally among the top political and economic priorities.
  • Delhi meanwhile has become supremely self-assured in dealing with London.
  • With the Indian economy set to become larger than Britain’s in the next couple of years, Delhi is no longer defensive about engaging Britain.
  • Even more important, Delhi recognises the value of a deep strategic partnership with London.


The UK has a significant international military presence and wide-ranging political influence. Realists in Delhi are trying to leverage these British strengths for India’s strategic benefit.

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