The coronavirus pandemic crisis meant UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson could not make it in person to New Delhi to celebrate India’s 72nd Republic Day on January 26 – the day in 1950 when the country adopted its “extraordinary Constitution” to become the biggest sovereign democracy in the world.
However, the UK PM used a message from 10 Downing Street in London to celebrate the close relations between the two countries, working side-by-side to develop, produce and distribute vaccines that will help to free humanity from the pandemic.
“I was hugely looking forward to joining you for this important occasion at the kind invitation of my friend Prime Minister Modi, alas our common struggle against Covid has kept me in London,” said Johnson, who reiterated his resolve to visit India in the coming months.
In a special reference to the British Indian diaspora, he noted: “All over the world, this virus is compelling people to stay apart, including family and friends in Britain and India, who form what Prime Minister Modi has called the ‘Living Bridge’ between us.
“But for now, let me wish everyone in India, as well as those celebrating here in Britain, a very happy Republic Day.”
The British Prime Minister’s message reflects a wider resolve within government quarters to tap into the full potential of the over 1.5-million-strong Indian-origin population of the UK, as an untapped resource to boost tie-ups between the two nations.
“The opportunities are simply huge with the under-leveraged Indian diaspora in the UK and they will be central as we focus on practical steps to boost greater business to business collaboration,” said Lord Tariq Ahmad, as part of his Republic Day message as Minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
“The first step we are looking forward to is the Prime Minister’s visit, which will involve a series of initiatives that will underline the strength of our partnership with India,” he said.
The minister laid out the government’s vision of building a “real professional partnership” that would overcome hurdles associated with historic issues such as immigration and facilitate the freer movement of skilled professionals and students between the two countries as a post-Brexit Global Britain attracts the “brightest and the best”.
The minister also pointed to the close collaboration between India and the UK in the field of Covid-19 vaccines, exemplified in the successful tie-up between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the Serum Institute of India in Pune.
India, “as the pharmacy of the world”, will play a vital role in the global commitment towards ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world, stressed Lord Ahmad.
The focus on this area will remain at the heart of several high-level interactions scheduled between the two sides during the course of this year. While Boris Johnson has expressed his determination to visit India ahead of the G7 summit in Cornwall in June, he has also extended a special invitation to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as one of three guest leaders to join the world’s leading democracies in their deliberations at the summit, which will be presided over by the UK.
Besides, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) is scheduled in Kigali, Rwanda, for around June and the United Nations COP26 climate summit is scheduled for November in Glasgow.
“We see India as a major partner, both in the bilateral and multilateral sphere, and this year marks an important one for the UK-India relationship,” added Lord Ahmad.