By Amit Roy
THE first official response to Narendra Modi’s re-election as India’s prime minister has come from Mark Field, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who said he hoped to use the Indian diaspora in the UK to strengthen “the living bridge” between the two countries.
Field, who has been to India three times in the last two years, said in an interview: “I have been a minister of state for two years -the India relationship is an integral part of that set-up.
“I have visited India on three occasions – been in Delhi on each occasion. I have been in Chennai, Hyderabad, and Mumbai earlier this year. (I am) very much looking forward to future visits.
“Now that prime minister Modi has been re-elected, I would very much want to build upon those visits to India and on the progress of the important meeting that took place at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (in London) between prime minister (Theresa) May and prime minister Modi last April”.
Field added: “We very much understand the immense ambitions prime minister Modi has for his second term and we very much hope the UK can be supportive of many of those ambitions”.
And he emphasised: “We feel our two countries are a force for good in the world at large.
“I am very excited by the work that we do together and it must be about more than just trade.
“It has to be about maintaining the strength of our connection and of our values in what is a fast-changing world. Certainly, as someone involved in the Foreign Office and looking at the diplomatic aspects of the work that we do, there is a lot that we can cooperate on.
“Of course, we are not going to agree on everything. There will be areas hopefully we will be able to have an adult sense of disagreement – we recognise there will be issues (where) we are not necessarily aligned but I personally think that there has been much at the UN and elsewhere where we have been able to cooperate.”
Foreign Office officials provide reassurance that a change of leader will not disrupt UK-India relations. The new Indian externals affairs minister, S Jaishankar, is a familiar figure to British diplomats with whom he interacted when he was India’s foreign secretary and the bureaucrat in charge of officials in his ministry.
Field referred to the size of the Indian-origin population in the UK as 1.5 million strong, though 2.3 million-2.5 million is considered to be a more realistic figure, given that more and more Indians are now the UK born.
“I have very much felt that the scale of the people-to-people connection which prime minister Modi has rightly called ‘the living bridge’ between our two countries is an important part of what we are doing”, Field said.
“And I have tried to focus my energies, not just on visits I have been able to make to India – I would like to do more – but actually the diaspora here in the UK”.
He pointed out: “We have had diaspora events in Leeds as well as in Manchester.”
Field, who is something of a cricket fan, will be at the India-England match in the ongoing ICC World Cup on Sunday, June 30, at Edgbaston in Birmingham.
“On the Saturday, we will be doing a big diaspora day with the Indian community,” he revealed.
He hopes enterprising Indian entrepreneurs will invest in India-UK projects, especially in the high-tech sector.
“The one thing I have also been very struck by is the importance of technology cooperation – there is an India-UK technology partnership that has been agreed.
“That actually takes into account Fintech; it takes into account all aspects of the fourth industrial revolution of robotics; all the areas around the internet; and, in particular, the increasing importance of cybersecurity.
“For my part, I see the alignment of values that we have with India makes us an obvious partner – not the only partner I recognise – but an obvious partner in this field”.
Spelling out the areas in which British Indians could invest, Field said: “One of the things I have tried to say to the diaspora community here in the UK, who are very well represented in the medical field, is that medical diagnostics is an important part of that ongoing technical cooperation.
“But I also hope that increasing numbers of young Indian entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech field, will see the obvious opportunities in trying to do work in that regard”.
Field is supporting his boss, foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, in the Tory leadership contest.