Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I take this opportunity to wish all colleagues in this House a happy Diwali. This is probably the most festive season for us, and the right day on which to open a debate on this subject.
This debate is timely. The election of Narendra Modi and the BJP majority Government is a unique opportunity for the United Kingdom to reinvigorate momentum in its relationship with India. We were right to re-engage with Narendra Modi in 2012 after the 10 years of diplomatic isolation of the Gujarat Government where he was the Chief Minister.
Let me first declare my interest. I was honoured to be appointed as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s business adviser. We led the first UK trade delegation to India since its landmark election in May. This gave me a first-hand opportunity to see why India matters to the United Kingdom.
Britain is in a unique position to work more closely with India because we have educational, historic, cultural and people-to-people ties between our two nations. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has visited the country three times since 2010, and many Ministers have followed. As I said, the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, led the first UK trade delegation in September. Only last week we had the visit of India’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, to the United Kingdom.
We also have the distinction of having here one of the largest populations of the Indian diaspora, estimated at 1.5 million. However, let us not underestimate India’s position worldwide. Narendra Modi has already visited Japan and the United States. There is a positive dialogue with China and a renewed relationship with neighbouring countries and the Middle East. We cannot continue to plead our special relationship with India. We have to work hard to build renewed confidence in our bilateral relationship.
Evidence of this is that our diplomatic network in India has become the largest in the world, and credit must go to High Commissioner James Bevan for this. There is now increased co-operation on foreign policy and a genuine understanding on matters of defence and security. There are still irritants in the field of education, where there is a drop in the number of students coming to the United Kingdom for further education. Bilateral trade is likely to double by next year, and there is a renewed co-operation on matters of research and innovation.
Prior to the BJP’s victory, India had gone through a period of stagnation with a declining economy. A decade of Congress rule had failed to combat corruption or enact major policy measures. The economic reform had not materialised. The BJP’s election win was the logical outcome. The country was crying out for a strong Government and the BJP provided that. It is to Mr Modi’s credit that it is the first time in 30 years that any single party has secured an absolute majority. I well remember that the Conservative Party’s election slogan during the Macmillan Government was, “You have never had it so good”. The BJP’s slogan had a similarity: “Good days are coming”. We now have the most powerful Prime Minister that India has had for many years.
People’s expectations are great and we have to wait to see how these are delivered. So far we have seen clarity in Mr Modi’s vision of domestic matters. His Independence Day speech on 15 August set out his vision on governance, which included a plea for a unified, selfless, skilled and peaceful India. He was not afraid to identify issues that have featured prominently in the past years. These included concerns about rape, equality, and the safety of women and girls. There was emphasis on reform, which involved more devolution of power and control which would result in more economic liberalisation and less central control. Mr Modi launched his flagship programme aimed at tackling poverty by ending financial untouchability. Under his project, bank accounts would be provided to millions without access to formal banking facilities.
There are, of course, challenging times ahead. It is estimated that at least 60% of India’s population is below the age of 35. It is further estimated that 10 million to 15 million young people enter the labour market each year. A high percentage of this number is employed in informal sectors. The emphasis has to shift towards the organised sectors. This gives the BJP Government a unique opportunity to reform labour laws and rebuild the industrial sector. The problem is massive but the BJP Government in Gujarat can point to its economic growth, which has continually exceeded that of other states in India. Then there are areas such as the agricultural sector, where securing income for farmers and improving the outdated infrastructure are essential. This will also require the co-operation of state government, which has not been easy in the past.
So what has Britain to offer India? It was obvious during our delegation’s visit that the new Government have placed economic development high on their agenda. India needs investment, and the UK is already its biggest G20 investor—and we can do more. The EU is India’s largest trading partner and India is a strategic partner of the EU. However, India wants more trade. Our bilateral trade is over £16 billion and we can certainly improve on this. In addition, India is looking for capital, and the City of London is the world’s biggest financial centre and well placed to provide expertise and advice. We have the investment, expertise and experience to make that happen.
In the field of education, some of our leading universities and colleges already have offices in India, attracting thousands of Indian students to the UK every year. The Minister is well aware that despite 85% of applications to the British high commission being approved within two weeks, there is a drop of nearly 20% in students coming to the United Kingdom. We need to examine our immigration policies to ensure that there are no detriments here. In addition, we should promote more student exchanges, joint research projects and learning partnerships both here and in India. I would welcome the Minister’s action in this matter.
There are issues of regional priorities, and the international community is looking to see how India intends to continue strengthening regional ties. Prime Minister Modi’s first act on his inauguration was to invite SAARC countries, including Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. This good start was halted in its tracks with the cancellation of the India-Pakistan talks. India did not take kindly to the Pakistan high commissioner meeting Kashmir separatist leaders. India’s position on Kashmir is well established, and the state is an integral part of India. Evidence of that fact is that successive Indian Governments have made efforts to ensure that a free and fair democratic process is followed in this state. Prime Minister Modi’s election campaign talked about Hindu-Muslim unity and invited both countries to join the fight against poverty. Evidence from a recent poll found that more than 68% of Indian Muslims felt safer under the Modi Government than under previous Governments. Over the years, the plight of the Kashmir Pandits cannot be ignored. There has been systematic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus and terrorist activities from across the border have continued. India’s position on Kashmir has been consistent. It expects Pakistan to tackle extremism and cross-border terrorism. It demands justice against the Mumbai suspects. The prize for co-operation is high. Full trade normalisation will benefit both countries.
I welcome the UK’s position. India is a mature democracy. There are political upheavals in Pakistan. It is not for Britain to mediate between India and Pakistan. Nawaz Sharif has to take steps to demonstrate to India that he is sincere in wanting to improve relations. Terrorism from across the border is unacceptable. We need to exercise care that in debates and discussions, particularly in this country, we should not support those who are determined to undermine the world’s largest democracy’s process of economic development.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has done us great service in introducing this debate, and I am honoured to be among so many Indian friends. We know that the noble Lord has done this country a service as the Deputy Prime Minister’s adviser. We give him full credit for what he has achieved.
I acknowledge Prime Minister Modi’s success in the election. I fully accept that he has made an excellent start in both foreign and domestic policies. I am sure his support for the business community will have attracted a lot of admirers in this country, although I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about our immigration rules possibly keeping out some of those people. In his Independence Day speech, Prime Minister Modi made some impressive and even moving promises. He said he comes from a poor family and wants dignity for the poor. He spoke up for gender equality and the low castes. He expressed disgust with poor sanitation and the condition in which millions have to live in his country.
Last year, the noble Lord, Lord McColl, and I took part in a march in Nepal for better water and sanitation and in a conference attended by MPs from all over South Asia. I know how important the WASH programme is worldwide and how seriously it is being taken by India. I know Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Kathmandu went down well in Nepal and it should mean greater co-operation between the two countries, not least on energy.
Prime Minister Modi was not elected for promising these things but because of the business sector’s confidence in him since the Gujarat miracle as well as the electoral failures of Congress and, even more, perhaps, the momentum of the BJP in building support over many years. He also stands before the vast majority of the electors as one of the poor. They will identify him with themselves and expect him to live up to these promises. On the global scale, despite its economic advance under Manmohan Singh, which has now faltered, India remains one of the poorest countries yet one of the most influential. With its membership of the BRICS group, the post-2015 agenda coming up and the setting of new UN sustainable goals, Modi is going to have to deliver a range of promises both to the world at large and to his own people. As he says, good days are coming.
The stakes are, as usual, very high. The report of the high-level panel, on which the UK played a leading role, states that the new order must “leave no one behind”, transform economies, build peace and effective institutions and forge a new global partnership. No one will be surprised that, when you come closer down to earth, India falls very short of these aspirations, especially when it comes to the situation of the low caste and the minorities. The fact is that there are atrocities and examples of hatred or prejudice every day against the lowest caste, the Dalits, and no one is stopping or reporting them except a fairly small number of NGOs that have the power to attract law enforcement agencies to these cases. I have personal experience of this in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Only last week the Guardian reported that a 15 year-old Dalit boy was set alight with petrol for allowing his goat to stray into a neighbouring landowner’s field. One extraordinary recent case is of the newly elected Chief Minister of Bihar, himself a Dalit, who visited a local temple, after which the whole temple was disinfected by high-caste Hindus.
A European Parliament library note says that there are 112 newly elected MPs in the Lok Sabha with a serious criminal record; that is one in five. Many of them, perhaps most, are of course in the ruling party. Against that background, can we expect legislation any time soon? In fact, there is a positive move by the Indian Government to translate the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Ordinance 2014, enacted by the previous Government, into a new Bill. Many human rights organisations are hopeful that the new legislation, which is under consideration now, will be passed at the earliest opportunity and be able to fix many loopholes in the existing law to protect the excluded communities. I also assume that our own DfID will do its best to support the NGOs working in this field, and perhaps the Minister could confirm that on the record.
I would also be grateful to hear the Minister’s analysis of the Muslim vote. Here we have a country with a vast Muslim population—the world’s third largest—grossly underrepresented in the Lok Sabha with only 20 MPs, its lowest ever number, with no seats among the ruling party. I am told, and indeed have read, that there were Muslim families, especially those who had admired the BJP’s success among the business class in Gujarat, who were not only sympathetic to but actually voted for the BJP. This seems extraordinary in the light of the terrible events in Gujarat in 2002, when hundreds died, mainly Muslims. Everyone remembers the Prime Minister’s long involvement with the RSS/Jan Sangh movement. However, it also perhaps shows the depth to which traditional Muslim support for Congress has fallen over the years.
According to one source, there was one Muslim group that completely turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim violence in 2002 because “as a thriving business community they didn’t want principles to come in the way of their market share in goods and commodities”. Having said that, I know from talking to Muslim friends before and since the election that the BJP still inspires fear among many Muslim minorities in several states, especially in Gujarat, Maharashtra and UP. There are deep divisions in many urban communities, amounting in some places to ghettoes. Basharat Peer, a well known Kashmiri journalist, writing in the New York Times earlier this year just before the election, described the situation in Ahmedabad. I will not quote the whole story, but it provides an example. He writes that he rode around Juhapura—the city’s largest Muslim ghetto at about 400,000 people—
“on the back of a friend’s scooter … The deeper we went into the neighborhood, the narrower the streets, the shabbier the buildings, the thicker the crowds. The edge of the ghetto came abruptly … ‘This is The Border,’ my friend said. Beyond the field was a massive concrete wall topped with barbed wire and oval surveillance cameras. On the other side, we could see a neat row of beige apartment blocks with air conditioners securely attached to the windows—housing for middle-class Hindu families”.
He quotes a 41 year-old resident, Mr Pathan, who says,
“‘The sun is allowed into Juhapura. The rain is allowed into Juhapura. The wind is allowed into Juhapura … I get a bill for water tax and pay it, but we don’t get piped water here.’ The locals rely on bore wells, which cough up salty, insalubrious water”.
Mr Pathan explained:
“‘My father said, ‘When the storm comes, you don’t get more than 10 minutes to run’”—
a clear reference to the threat of sectarian violence.
I quote that story because a friend of mine lives in Ahmedabad and he knows it to be true. He says that there are two very separate real estate markets, originally arising from the Disturbed Areas Act, which prevents Hindus from selling property to Muslims. That was originally intended to prevent communal violence, but in practice it is a recipe for apartheid.
Finally, another concern of Muslims is that, whatever assurances are given, the Prime Minister refuses to condemn his own MPs and senior leaders when they indulge in inflammatory rhetoric. I quote no less an authority than Siddharth Varadarajan, former editor of the Hindu, who has regularly described the BJP’s demonisation of Muslims and its dirty tricks during political campaigning in UP. It being Diwali, I wish the new Indian Government continuing success, but the point is that, however many promises the Prime Minister makes, he has to live down a long record of prejudice and discrimination in his own party. More importantly, he has to carry out and implement the legislation that he is proposing so that minorities can all see and believe what they are hearing.
My Lords, I commend the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for providing us with this opportunity to focus on an issue that is timely and important. The relationship between Britain and India is unusual and remarkable: unusual because we have moved without rancour from an imperial association to a lasting friendship of equals; remarkable because it is rare that great nations with such different cultural wellsprings share unshakeable common commitments to democracy and the rule of law.
As we reflect on these affinities and how they flow into our assessment, we should note that this is a very special year for India. In May, India engaged in the largest democratic happening in human history. Its 16th national election embraced an electorate of more than 800 million voters, a larger number than all the combined electorates of the European Union and North America. It takes more than 30 separate national elections to produce the governing institutions of the European Union and North America; it takes just one election to produce the Government of India.
The election of 2014 was also marked by a new maturity in voting. At these polls, Indians transcended old divisions of caste and religion, largely leaving behind sectarianism, to vote for national concerns such as employment and anti-corruption. A new leader—we must congratulate Mr Narendra Modi—was able to secure a one-party majority and a stable Government after many years of minority or coalition rule. In these days of political turmoil, times when democracy often seems so unstable and fragile, this bodes well for the future of India.
When I speak of affinities and common commitments, I am well aware that Britain and India have many differences and many divergent interests. Yet, after a lifetime linked to both societies, I am deeply conscious that the things that unite us are far greater than those which divide us. This is why I am concerned, and share the disquiet that so many Indians feel, about the stream of ungenerous and often ill-informed advice that is directed from this country to India, generally offering unsolicited counsel on how India should conduct its democracy and manage its affairs. I shall provide a few instances.
On human rights, there are cases of abuse in India but they are invariably investigated through independent judicial enquiries and the outcomes are inevitably taken very seriously. Ill founded allegations are made over and again, suggesting Indian indifference to these situations.
On corruption, there are serious issues, but the Modi Government have addressed this with unprecedented vigour and seem to be making progress on this hugely complex problem, a problem that your Lordships well know is not confined to India. Even Britain is not exempt. Little, if any, credit is given to the determined efforts now under way to correct this situation.
On Kashmir, there is a cascade of intrusive comment, instruction and advice. India is in constant discussion with Pakistan and has made it clear that Kashmir is an integral part of India.
Most Indians, irrespective of whether or not they support Mr Modi, were profoundly upset when a few years ago some Governments refused him a visa, or were reluctant to issue him with one. The issue was sectarian riots in the state of Gujarat and the very sad loss of life on both sides. However, twice thereafter Mr Modi was democratically re-elected as the Chief Minister of that state, and the Supreme Court cleared him of any blame. These are just some random examples of the continuous and irritating admonitions that are endlessly repeated, sometimes by those whose irresponsibility is surprising.
The point I am making is not that transgressions should be overlooked or excused, but that the needless pursuit of ill-informed criticism and unfair comment can only damage the good relations that characterise the Indo-British nexus. The haranguing of proud and independent countries is not conducive to discourse between democratic nations. I am sorry to see the slow decline of the Indo-British relationship over the past decade. When I ended my five-year term as co-chair of the UK-India round table in 2005, relations between the two countries were about the best they had ever been, although I am not claiming any personal credit for that. Now is the time to re-establish those links and welcome honest dialogue between us. India has an unparalleled opportunity to progress in a way that will provide opportunity for all its people. As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said this week, we are for,
“a market economy but with a social conscience”.
Let us do what we can to assist India’s advancement, as I am sure the Indian people will respond with great vigour and that will be a win-win situation for both countries.
Before I close, I would like to raise one small point. When the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer visited India in July, they announced with great fanfare that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi would be erected in Parliament Square as a sign of the concord between our two nations. Initially the Indian people were delighted by this generous gesture, but I am afraid that a degree of doubt has crept in because the funds are going to be raised by public subscription. The Chancellor himself has said that the British economy is in great shape, so I find it rather surprising that Her Majesty’s Government are unable to fund this modest project.
Today is a day of sublime importance in India. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said in his opening, it is Diwali, the festival of lights, which symbolises the victory of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance and of hope over despair. It is a metaphor that I hope will inform the perceptions and assessments that this debate concerns.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this Short Debate, not least because it has been obtained and opened by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I congratulate him and the other speakers, and we look forward to the Minister’s reply to the important Question that the noble Lord has asked—namely, the Government’s assessment of the outcome of the 2014 general election in India. I thank the noble Lord for his Diwali wishes. As he knows, I come from Leicester, where we are proud to have the largest Diwali celebrations anywhere outside the subcontinent.
I start by restating what all of us believe, that India is a magnificent and great country which, placed in the modern world, is growing in strength and influence year after year. In this country, we are obsessed by a general election next year in which roughly 50 million citizens will have the right to vote and perhaps 30 million will vote. It is worth repeating that the general election in India involved 815 million eligible voters, of whom 551 million voted—that is over 66%—to elect a new Lok Sabha and Government of India. It was a brilliant logistical exercise but, much more significantly, it was a demonstration of the principles of democracy in action that no other country in the world can come near to. In a world full of one-party Governments, dictatorships and phoney elections, for almost 70 years India has stood out as the world’s largest functioning democracy, in spite of political, military and economic difficulties that might well have destroyed democracy in a lesser country.
The result of the election surprised the world, not because it was not widely believed that the BJP would win and that Mr Modi would become Prime Minister but because of the extent of that victory. A majority for one party of members of the Lok Sabha is a rare event. When the BJP achieved it and could have governed alone, that it chose not to do so but preferred to be the dominant party in a coalition Government, with 337 seats out of 545, was no doubt in the tradition of modern Indian politics but also with the awareness that it achieved its majority of seats with 31% of the total vote.
All elections everywhere are called watershed elections, but the 2014 general election in India can genuinely be described by that name. It seemed as though the Congress party coalition Government had perhaps run out of steam, having enjoyed a successful first five years of its 10-year term. From afar, it seems as though the country wanted change. Perhaps a rather loose comparison with British political history in 1979 and—dare I say it—in 1997 is not too far-fetched.
Commentators have argued with some force that Mr Modi’s appeal was not what has been described as his “bold Hindu nationalism” but rather expressed the view that a liberalisation of the Indian economy to increase growth rates, an attack on what was perceived as being too much corruption, plus an appeal to the vast and growing youth vote and across caste as well, were more significant factors in his victory.
In the five months that have passed—which is an incredibly short time to make any sweeping judgments—it is clear that Mr Modi is the dominant figure in his Administration. At home and abroad, it is he who makes the news, and of course it is by his actions that his Government will eventually be judged. From the BJP victory in state elections this week in Haryana and Maharashtra, both states unused to BJP leadership, it is clear that the Prime Minister’s honeymoon period is far from over. There has been some impatience about the pace of economic reform, and some criticism of the July budget. However, only this week a series of announcements involving labour laws, diesel prices and the Indian coal industry have led commentators to argue that the pace of reform is being stepped up.
Mr Modi has also been busy in foreign affairs, with considerable publicity concerning his visits to Brazil, the United Nations and Japan. As we have heard in this debate, Britain is tied closely to India on so many fronts: history, a belief in democracy, a very large number of British citizens with Indian backgrounds, the trading relationship and the investment in each other’s countries, to name but a few. The present Government in Britain, as much as the previous one, have made the relationship a priority for this country. We of course support the work done by current Ministers, who no doubt supported us when we were in power as well. India is too important a country as far as British interests are concerned for there to be any party-political point-scoring. However, the decline in the number of Indian students who study in the United Kingdom, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is a matter that needs responding to, and needs some quick action.
This country has much work to do with India on climate change, where the Indians have a huge role in global climate talks, particularly the Lima climate change conference in December, and in Paris in 2015. India was this week re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council, which of course we also welcome.
The next few years will be an exciting time for India—but when is it not an exciting time in India? A former British high commissioner once told me, when I was lucky enough to visit India as a Minister, that if you look out of a window on a car journey in India, anywhere and at any time something interesting is always going on. He was absolutely right—India is permanently interesting. I am proud to have spent some of my early years in Chennai—of course, when I was young it was called Madras—and of course I was also lucky enough to represent many British Indians as a councillor in Leicester for many years. We on this side wish the new Government well in their difficult and important work.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to wind up this debate, particularly as it was opened by my noble friend Lord Dholakia, who first took me to India some time ago and from whom I have learnt a great deal about the sub-continent. I thank him for initiating today’s debate and for his loyal and continuing interest in relations between Britain and India. I was glad that the Indian Government recognised this when they awarded my noble friend the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman some time ago. I thank other noble Lords who have participated in this debate.
Perhaps I should first say a few words on the terrible storms that hit India’s eastern coast several days ago. I extend on behalf of the UK Government our deepest condolences to all those who have lost family and loved ones after Cyclone Hudhud hit the eastern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha. The cyclone caused devastating damage to life and property, and our thoughts are with those who died. The Indian Government are working well to manage the situation, and the UK will continue to monitor the evolving situation there and stand ready to assist where it is appropriate to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked how the British Government see the outcome of India’s election. We all watched as India undertook this massive, open, democratic election, an enormous feat of organisation and a peaceful transfer of power—something which many Governments and states in the world are sadly not yet very capable of doing. More than 500 million people voted and the election saw the Indian people give the BJP an absolute majority in the lower House—an amazing shift. In doing so, the Indian people gave their new Government a strong mandate for reform and economic growth. As I understand it, it was to some extent a vote of confidence in Modi as a reformer more than in the BJP as a party. The noble Lord rightly commented that two recent state elections have further strengthened the position of the BJP. I notice that we debate constitutional reform in Britain. The United Kingdom has still an entirely unitary constitution based on parliamentary sovereignty, but it has always been very good at giving states which were formerly in the empire and Commonwealth highly devolved and federal constitutions, India being a good example.
The Indian Prime Minister, Mr Modi, has made a very good start in office. He has made positive moves, already mentioned, to engage the region such as inviting the leaders of India’s neighbours to his inauguration, and his statement to work through consensus in Parliament is equally admirable. His ambitious plans to develop India, through energy for all by 2020, heavy investment in infrastructure and, importantly, improved governance, will all be key in supporting India’s development. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned the MPs in the Lok Sabha who have interesting backgrounds. This is not a new problem; it has been there ever since India became independent. We believe that Mr Modi’s plans open up bright new prospects for the relationship between our two countries across the board, including in trade, foreign policy and people-to-people issues. We have made a positive start in engaging the new Indian Government, with the Chancellor, the Deputy Prime Minister and the former Foreign Secretary all having met Prime Minister Modi since the election and through Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to London on 17 October. We have made a total of nine ministerial visits so far, mostly with substantial groups accompanying the Ministers who went. I understand that a tenth will shortly be led by Greg Clark which will concentrate precisely on the areas of research, co-operation and student exchange—I am happy that my wife, as an officer of the British Academy, will be part of that party—talking about the Newton Fund and how we can assist in co-operation between Indian and British universities. We want to build on what we have achieved and our already strong ties with India to bring real warmth to the relationship. We are not letting the grass grow under our feet.
Trade and investment is a priority of the new Indian Government and it is important in driving the growth and development that India wants. India wants to modernise its infrastructure, boost manufacturing and release the potential of young Indians through better education. Prime Minister Modi has also revealed plans to clean up the Ganges, which is of huge significance to the Indian people. By investing in that growth, stabilising prices and developing the infrastructure to improve services and connectivity, he will do much to kick-start the economy across the country after years in which the Indian economy has grown more slowly than its potential.
However, to achieve this, India needs investment. The UK is already the biggest investor among the G20 countries in India, and more Indian investment comes to the UK than to the rest of Europe combined, but there is more that we intend to do. For example, when visiting India in July, the Chancellor announced that the UK will make available £1 billion of export finance to support the development of Indian infrastructure that has a UK element. He also announced, as part of the UK-India Economic and Financial Dialogue, a partnership between India and the City of London to work collaboratively in areas such as the potential to float the rupee in London, and opportunities for further raising of capital. We are roughly on track to achieve the Prime Minister’s target of doubling bilateral trade with India between 2010 and 2015, and we will keep pushing to remove barriers for British companies to trade in India and vice versa, and to ensure that we make the best of the opportunities that are available.
We are also, of course, pressing the Indian Government to complete the agreement made in Bali which will enable us to take the World Trade Organization through to another level of opening up trade. We understand the Indian Government’s concern about food security but we are confident that a compromise can be agreed that will allow the world trade round to go ahead.
An important part of our delivery of and success in achieving our aims with India is the strength of the people-to-people links our two nations have, with our extremely successful Indian diaspora—1.5 million people—who contribute to every aspect of our society and have the potential to be a cornerstone in our bilateral relationship. Last week we saw the Indian Government’s flagship regional diaspora conference, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas—I hope I pronounced it moderately correctly—take place in London for the first time. We were honoured to be the host city for this event and it demonstrated the power of the people-to-people links. Equally, things such as the Dadabhai Naoroji awards, which celebrate those individuals who have helped strengthen UK-India bonds and which were handed out for the first time last week at the FCO’s Indian diaspora reception, show how much the diaspora can and does contribute.
Those ties will be highlighted during the centenary of the start of World War I. We will be honouring the more than 1 million Indians who served to defend Europe’s freedom, so that their courage and sacrifice are not forgotten. I was very happy to go to the exhibition on the role of Sikhs in World War I at the School of Oriental and African Studies this summer. I very much hope that my noble friend Lord Dholakia is involved in preparations in Brighton to commemorate all those Indians who were sent to Brighton as wounded soldiers to recover or, in some cases sadly, to die there of their wounds. I speak as a member of the advisory board on the commemoration of World War I, and we want to ensure that the Indian dimension is very much part of our memorial.
The noble Lord, Lord Paul, suggested that we were being a little ungenerous in asking for the Gandhi memorial to be funded by public subscription. I think it is the case that most of the statues he sees in London have been funded by public subscription. I spoke at a meeting of the Chinese community in London last month to commemorate the role of the Chinese Labour Corps in World War I and to launch the fund that will get a public subscription to pay for a memorial. This is the normal way in which these things happen in London. I look forward very much to seeing the Gandhi memorial, we hope in Parliament Square.
We have not mentioned energy co-operation, although the noble Lord, Lord Bach, mentioned climate change. One of the new Prime Minister’s priorities is indeed to improve India’s energy security. Britain is a world leader in renewable energy and we see that as very much part of the partnership in which mutual interest will enable us to go a great deal further.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about the treatment of minorities, both Dalits and Muslims. We all recognise that that remains a severe problem in India and that, indeed, some of those problems overlap into the diaspora community in Britain. We—or, at least, non-governmental organisations—are engaged in this. It is very much a deep cultural issue, as of course is the position of women in Indian society, on which we all need to work, and on which the diaspora community in Britain needs to work, to improve that particular aspect of Indian society.
The noble Lord, Lord Paul, also talked about the problems of corruption, which are of course deep-seated in traditional Indian culture, as they were in traditional British culture until a century and a half ago. Again, we look forward to the new Government working on this. The noble Lord also talked about a slow decline in UK-Indian relations. Well, we are now doing our utmost to reverse that and to ensure that we can build a positive new relationship with the new Government.
Finally, there was mention of the relationship with Pakistan, and with other neighbours. We are of course actively concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan; that, too, is a relationship which overlaps into the United Kingdom. We welcomed the invitation for the Pakistani Prime Minister to attend Mr Modi’s inauguration, and we shall do everything that we can to encourage that relationship to unfreeze, which is certainly what it needs to do.
This has been a very useful debate. I hope that I have made it clear that Her Majesty’s Government see the election of the Modi Government as an opportunity to strengthen relations with India and for India to grow, reform and change more rapidly than in recent years. We look forward to cultivating that relationship over the coming years.
Committee adjourned at 4.42 pm.