Boris Johnson's first visit to India as UK Prime Minister yielded wide-ranging announcements across defence and security, energy security, education as well as an ambitious Diwali deadline for the conclusion of the ongoing free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations.
The visit of the British Prime Minister, who was welcomed with a grand Guard of Honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – whom he referred to as his “khaas dost” or special friend, marked a major boost to the UK-India partnership in a year being celebrated as the 75th year of Indian independence and also 75 years of UK-India bilateral relations.
According to the Downing Street readout of the prime ministerial talks between Johnson and Modi, the leaders agreed a new partnership in defence and security, including working together on undersea capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, helicopters, the development of Indian-made fighter jets and other defence equipment.
Before arriving in the Indian capital, Johnson also made history as the first British Prime Minister to visit Gujarat, where he was given a rapturous welcome. So much so that by the time he got to Delhi, he declared he felt like a superstar akin to cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar or Bollywood hero Amitabh Bachchan.
The visit involved stopovers at Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad – where he tried his hand at spinning the charkha – and darshan at the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Gandhinagar. At its heart, the two-day visit on April 21 and 22 was about boosting UK-India economic collaboration. UK and Indian businesses confirmed more than £1 billion in new investments and export deals in areas from software engineering to health, creating almost 11,000 jobs across the UK.
However, the 1.5-million strong Indian diaspora living bridge remained centrestage, not least in the choice of Gujarat – the ancestral home for many British Indians.
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Here are some soundbites that capture the wide-ranging agenda during the two-day visit:
“I don’t think at any time in my lifetime has the living bridge between India and the UK been so strong. We’re hoping to complete another with India by the autumn.”
“The UK’s partnership with India is a beacon in these stormy seas. Our collaboration on the issues that matter to both our countries, from climate change to energy security and defence, is of vital importance as we look to the future.”
“Our powerhouse partnership is delivering jobs, growth and opportunities for our people, and it will only go from strength-to-strength in the coming years.”
“The UK is making an Indo-Pacific tilt. It’s the right thing to do, given the growth in the world economy that’s going to be found in this area. India and the UK want to stick together.”
“It's a bit of an art, this spinning.”
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“We have a massive shortage in the UK, not least in experts in IT and programming. We are short to the tune of hundreds of thousands in our economy. We need to have a professional approach, but it has got to be controlled.”
“As I think everybody understands, India and have historically a very different relationship than perhaps Russia and the UK have had over the last couple of decades, we have to reflect that reality. But clearly I will be talking about it to Narendra Modi.”
“We always raise the difficult issues, of course we do, but the fact is that India is a country of 1.35 billion people and it is democratic, it’s the world’s largest democracy.”