The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, has arrived in India on Monday for a 3-day visit of the country. Together with a large entourage of over 100 British executives and university leaders, the main topics of discussion will cover bilateral business and trade. Cameron, in a previous visit had planned to double the trade with India to 23 billion pounds by 2015, election year. “I’m in no doubt that India is going to one of the great success stories of this century,” he told the Hindustan Times in an interview published Monday. “And I want Britain to be one of your partners as you grow.”
Cameron’s visit is clouded by a defense scandal involving Agusta Westland, a UK subsidiary of Italian conglomerate Finmeccanica. In 2010, the Indian government had awarded a contract worth Rs.3800 crore ($700 million) to Agusta for the supply of 12 VVIP helicopters. The contract is in the process of getting scrapped because of the large scale corruption uncovered involving controversial arms agents, middlemen and huge kick-backs for winning the contract. The heads of Finmeccanica and Agusta, Giuseppe Orsi and Bruno Spagnolini were arrested and other senior executives are also under prosecution in Italy for giving kick-backs.The Indian defense ministry said that the government will invoke integrity act and other clauses in the contract if investigations uncover malpractices including bribery. The Indian government has begun its own investigations in the matter. The failure of the contract will be a setback for Cameron due to losses of jobs back home. This along with India’s decision to buy Rafale fighter aircraft (made by Dassault Aviation of France) will be some of the hot topics covered in Cameron’s visit. The partly British-made Eurofighter was one of the contenders of the $10 billion deal.
Cameron is keen not to repeat the mistakes of David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary who connected the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks to the unresolved issues in Kashmir. This had given rise to unnecessary diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
India is forecasted to spend around $1 trillion in the next five years on infrastructure and British firms are hoping to win some of those contracts.
After Mumbai, Cameron plans to visit the capital, Delhi where he is going to gift the first Indian made Royal Mint guinea coin to the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The legendary coins, once used widely within the British Empire during the late 17th to early 19th centuries, are now collector’s items and are also used by some as gifts. They weigh 8 grams, costs Rs.30,000 ($550) and is now made in India in collaboration with a Swiss company.
Besides business, Cameron will clear misconceptions of UK’s decision to cut immigration numbers by deterring Indian students applying to UK universities. “There is no limit on the number of students who can come from India to study at British universities. Indian businessmen and women will be “fast-tracked” to British visas” he told the media.
“I’m also determined to ensure that the service we offer to Indian businesses encourages them to come and invest in Britain,” he further added. “I think there’s more we can do here and that’s an area where I hope we can put an even more attractive offer on the table during this trip.”