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Then and now of UK ties

India and the UK must re-think, re-invent and re-imagine ties. This was the consensus at the discussion India-UK: Ambition and Modernity, organised by the British Council as part of its project “Re-Imagine: India-UK Cultural Relations in the 21st Century” at the Bengal Club on Friday.

The panellists were Crispin Bates, the director of the Centre for South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh, Arghya Sengupta, who teaches law at Oxford University, Nandita Palchoudhuri, social entrepreneur, and Prateek Raja, the owner of Experimenter gallery. Surendra Munshi, a former professor at IIM-C, moderated the discussion.

Bates set the ball rolling. “Around 50 to 60 per cent of the British economy is dependent on small and medium enterprises, like in India. Modern UK is as multi-cultural as India. The two should come together to create a better future for both,” he said.

Sengupta was hard hitting. “For India, the challenge is to find its feet in the new world. After all, we are still a developing nation,” he said. “Both nations need to recognise the reality and redefine their role.”

Palchoudhuri claimed that when she had started promoting the work of craftsmen in the UK over a decade ago, the India-UK relationship was not of equals. “The British demands have (now) changed and so has our relationship with them. It is on a more equal footing.” To improve Indo-UK ties further, she suggested that Indians should not be mere peddlers of their culture.

According to Raja, it is important for young entrepreneurs to connect with a larger audience. It’s the people-to-people relationship that needs to be explored further, he felt.

Palchoudhuri cited an instance of sharing of experience. “We have been involved with a project under which Chandernagore lights are being installed in the UK. The Indian electricians were astounded when they were asked to wear helmets, insular gears and climb cranes to fit bulbs. But they realised through the experience that their lives too have value and maybe they would be a bit more cautious in India in future. On the other hand, the UK should also realise that it was not life-threatening to touch a 2 volt bulb and safety standards need not be so rigid,” she said.

Bates said: “India should not treat its troubles as unique. Both India and the UK are weighed down by corruption in politics.”

Members of the audience expressed their views too. Bonani Kakkar, the founding member of NGO Public, mentioned how the Hooghly was neglected till representatives from London Rivers showed Calcuttans how to beautify the riverside.