India to diplomatically downgrade Britain

NEW DELHI: India is finally moving to cut the old umbilical cord, with the UPA government in its second avatar having decided to diplomatically downgrade its official presence in Britain.

The post of High Commissioner to Britain was once considered a key political appointment for the government of

the day, with VK Krishna Menon and Vijayalakshmi Pandit among the earliest appointees, reporting directly to the Prime Minister. The Deputy High Commissioner’s post was a grade 1 ambassadorial appointment, with among the most senior members of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) vying for the job.

However, all that is changing and, after a detailed policy review, the importance of London, and by extension Britain, is being scaled down by the Ministry of External Affairs. The orientation in South Block is shifting from the purely political to the economic and security-linked relationships it can foster

with countries. Other than the immediate neighbourhood and countries that it considers vital for its strategic requirements, India is increasingly concentrating its diplomatic efforts to expand in areas where there is potential to secure energy security, like Central Asia and Africa, and where economic benefits like natural resources and trade are primary, like South East Asia and Latin America.

An increasingly confident India, secure with its expanding economic prowess, does not need many of its past crutches, and Britain is seen as one of those. Probably the weakest link in the P-5, Britain is not central to New Delhi’s list of diplomatic priorities any more.

The incumbent High Commissioner Nalin Surie and his predecessor Shiv Shankar Mukherjee have both been career diplomats who assumed charge in London during their tenures in service as secretaries to the government. And, according to informed sources in the government, the next DHC is likely to be a joint secretary, a far cry from when the DHC in London was a senior secretary ranked official. It is likely, the sources said, that the vast numbers of senior officials manning various diverse sections of the High Commission would be reduced, and several wings clubbed together. The logic being that officers would be freed to assume charge to open missions in other regions where India wants to register its presence, and to enhance its presence in other crucial areas, including Mauritius.

Also, the sources said, India has not been thrilled with several recent British gestures. It came as quite a shock when Britain raised additional queries earlier this year and sought to block, along with China, a move to have Hafeez Saeed, head of the terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba, declared a terrorist by the United Nations Security Council. While Britain quickly came around, India has also not been thrilled with various provisions it considers discriminatory for Indian citizens that Britain has sought to enact while granting residency and work permits.