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July 3, 2014 8:32 pm
William Hague and George Osborne will head to India next week to meet Narendra Modi, the country’s recently elected prime minister, in an effort to encourage trade with the UK.
The foreign secretary and chancellor are the first senior figures from the British government to visit India since Mr Modi was voted in this year, and are part of efforts by governments to woo the new premier.
Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, visited New Delhi this week, and Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, went to India two weeks ago.
Mr Hague and Mr Osborne’s meeting with Mr Modi has not been confirmed by either government, but the desire to establish contact is a sign of how much the UK attitude has changed towards the former Gujarat chief minister over the past decade.
London, along with Washington and many European administrations, for years shunned any contact with Mr Modi because of suspicions he was complicit in Gujarat’s 2002 bloody interfaith riots.
London formally renewed ties with Mr Modi in October 2012 as he began to emerge as the most likely challenger to New Delhi’s ruling Congress-party government, with its controlling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
A visit by two of David Cameron’s closest cabinet colleagues would help cement the new British warmth towards Mr Modi.
Downing Street would not comment on any plans by the UK prime minister to visit the country, but Mr Cameron has repeatedly emphasised the importance of the UK’s relationship with India in stimulating trade.
He has visited three times in his premiership, and has talked of his desire to make Britain “India’s partner of choice”.
Mr Hague will also meet Sushma Swaraj, India’s external affairs minister, while Mr Osborne will meet Arun Jaitley, the Indian finance minister. They are also expected to meet business groups.
The two British ministers are part of a growing number of western officials arriving in New Delhi to establish formal contacts with Mr Modi’s new administration, amid revived global interest in India and its economic and strategic prospects.
One of the items on the agenda is likely to be the possible sale to India of Typhoon jets built by a consortium including BAE Systems, the British defence company, if the talks with Dassault sour.
India spent about £3.5bn importing weapons last year, but that is thought to be a fraction of its genuine requirement. Large contracts had faltered because of the previous Congress-led government’s reluctance to conclude big arms deals.
John McCain, the US senator, also met Mr Modi in New Delhi this week, only days after he declared in the US Senate that Washington should do more to support India’s economic and military rise.
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