Socialite dinner for UK ministers - In 'changed' world, Delhi accepts uncommon request from British team

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  • Published 25.07.10

New Delhi, July 24: Blame it on the generation gap.

Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, will attend dinners hosted for him by some of India’s leading socialites rather than by Indian ministers during next week’s visit, with UK Prime Minister David Cameron also “dropping by” at these events.

Osborne, 39, will be part of 43-year-old Cameron’s 90-member team on the maiden India trip by Britain’s youngest Prime Minister in almost two centuries.

Sources have told The Telegraph that Osborne and Cameron have expressed a desire to meet not just government officials but a whole cross-section of Indians during the July 28-29 visit. It’s an uncommon request that New Delhi seems to have accepted.

“This is a changed world and not everything happens with governments or their representatives,” a government source said.

“In fact, more and more of the action lies outside government. That is a section the British are also very keen to interact and engage with.”

On July 28, Suhel Seth, marketing consultant to several top Indian and British business houses, will host a dinner in Osborne’s honour in New Delhi.

The next day, Cameron and his team, which includes several British industrialists, will be in Mumbai where Parmeshwar Godrej, wife of industrialist Adi Godrej, will throw a star-studded dinner party for them.

At the Seth dinner, the guest list will include industrialists Vijay Mallya and Sunil Bharti Mittal, BJP leader Arun Jaitley, sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan, Unique Identification Authority chief Nandan Nilekani, former foreign secretaries, media bosses and editors, and also some cabinet ministers.

Government sources could not recall the last time a visiting head of government or his senior ministers had chosen to be guests of private individuals in off-business hours.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to host a lunch for Cameron and his cabinet colleagues at New Delhi’s Hyderabad House on July 28. Usually, the Prime Minister hosts a dinner during a visit by a head of government; other senior cabinet ministers too do so for visiting foreign dignitaries.

In the run-up to his visit, Cameron has issued statements that reflect his commitment to forging closer Indo-UK bilateral and trade ties to turn his vision of “a strategic relationship with India” into reality.

The UK Prime Minister has been quoted saying he wants to build a “special relationship” similar to the one Britain has with the US.

Some important issues likely to be discussed include the business and economic relationship between India and the UK, the G-20’s future agenda, and the role of Britain and India in Afghanistan.

Cameron hopes to secure contracts worth £1 billion (Rs 7,200 crore) for the British defence industry. His team will seek to press British interests in India’s $11-billion (Rs 51,364 crore), 126-aircraft fighter procurement contest.

Six manufacturers are in the running for the lucrative deal, with EADS, the consortium that includes British aerospace company BAe Systems, offering the Eurofighter Typhoon jet. Britain also hopes to sell India 57 more hawk jet trainers, in a deal worth £500 million (Rs 3,600 crore), in addition to the 66 fighters BAe is already contracted to provide.

Cameron will arrive with seven cabinet ministers, including the foreign secretary, business secretary and the chancellor, to try and revitalise ties with New Delhi and generate business in the insurance, financial services and technology sectors.

Cameron recently said that just as America was working towards closer ties with an emerging power like China, he wanted Britain to have a closer friendship with India, also an emerging power.