London, April 3: This is the big question on UK-India relations as far as the Indian government is concerned — what will be Tory policy towards India should David Cameron replace Gordon Brown as Prime Minister in the general election on May 6?
There is nothing to worry about, Kenneth Clarke, 69, shadow business secretary, has said in a meeting with Indian journalists in London.
India is one of my favourite countries — Ive been there several times, he said.
Clarke was not being merely polite for he probably does reflect consensus in the Conservative Party on India.
Manmohan Singh has had a strong personal equation with Brown but Clarke, too, spoke warmly about the Indian Prime Minister. He pointed out that when Singh was finance minister under Narasimha Rao, he was chancellor of the exchequer and so the two met frequently and got on very well.
Hes one of the people I most admire of those I have met in my life, said Clarke, who is considered a leading Tory moderate.
He was the leading finance minister from the developing world. I was hugely impressed by him then. The reforms he introduced transformed the Indian economy. I found him a very wise man indeed in international gatherings. He was really a leading figure among the Asian ministers and others present and a huge influence.
Over the past 13 years, since Labour came to power in 1997, successive Indian governments have been comfortable dealing with, first, Tony Blair, and then his successor.
Some polls suggest that Britain might have a hung Parliament, in which case Brown could possibly limp on as Prime Minister. But other analysts incline towards an outright Tory victory, with all change in 10 Downing Street, after May 6.
It is in this context that Clarke spoke reassuringly about a future Tory governments India policy. It was in the UKs interest to strengthen relations with India, he argued, though he did not go as far as his leader who believes that Britain should have a special relationship with India much on a par with the one it has traditionally enjoyed with the US.
India is one of Britains most important allies throughout the world Clarke stressed.
This is a country with whom it is extremely important that we remain on good and close terms and I hope that any government that emerges from the forthcoming election can continue to maintain the strongest links with India.
He pointed out: We have some very strong foreign policy interests in common because the Indian interest, above all in Afghanistan, where we are currently engaged in a war, is substantial, as is our own.
Clarke added: In terms of trade and the economy, India is going to be in the very foreseeable future one of the two giant economies of the world. China and India are growing extremely rapidly. It is a very important market for us, a very important source of inward investment. I would press the Indian government to open up the Indian market to more inward investment from the UK. But I am sure change will steadily come. It will be a very powerful force in the world.
Clarke was also able to reassure businessmen of Indian origin who reside in the UK but have non-dom status for tax purposes. This meant they did not pay tax on their overseas earnings — which has become a requirement if they wish to sit in the House of Lords. This affects a few like Swraj Paul, the Labour peer, who has agreed to give up his non-dom status.
But for others, the non-dom status will be retained, Clarke promised.
After the meeting with Indian journalists, it was noticeable there was no official car waiting for Clarke or the British equivalent of Black Cats to accompany him even though he is one of the most senior politicians in the country — a man with equal rank to, say, Pranab Mukherjee. He merely walked back to his office without making any fuss.