• Wednesday, April 17, 2024

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India’s Rajnath Singh to discuss defence, security issues with Shapps

Singh’s UK visit is the first by Indian defence minister in 22 years

Indian Minister of Defense Rajnath Singh. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By: Pramod Thomas

INDIAN defence minister Rajnath Singh will discuss bilateral issues with his UK counterpart Grant Shapps during his official visit, the ministry of defence said in a statement.

Singh arrived in UK on Monday (8) night. Notably, this marks the first visit of a sitting Indian defence minister to the UK in 22 years.

He would be accompanied by a high-level ministry of defence delegation. As per the ministry, both leaders are expected to discuss a wide range of defence, security and industrial cooperation issues.

Rajnath Singh is also expected to call on prime minister Rishi Sunak and hold a meeting with foreign secretary David Cameron.

He will further interact with the CEOs and industry leaders of the UK defence industry and will also address the Indian community.

Singh’s previously planned visit to the UK in June 2022 was called off by the Indian side for “protocol reasons”.

The minister is expected to inspect a ceremonial Guard of Honour and undertake visits to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B R Ambedkar memorials in London.

“This visit is significant in terms of both optics and substance. In terms of the former, this is the first visit of India’s defence minister to the UK in 22 years – the last visit was by then defence minister of a previous BJP-led government, George Fernandes, to London on 22 January 2002,” said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, senior fellow for South and Central Asian Defence, Strategy and Diplomacy at the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Roy-Chaudhury believes Singh’s visit indicates an improvement in India’s political relationship and the building of trust with the UK following Sunak’s visit to India for the G20 Summit in September last year.

“In substantive terms, the visit will seek to deepen military cooperation and defence industrial partnerships with the UK by building on the November 2023 Defence Consultative Group (DCG) meeting in Delhi at the level of secretaries and the inaugural meeting of the 2+2 foreign and defence Dialogue at the level of joint secretaries in October 2023,” he said.

According to experts, Singh’s visit will be a keenly watched as it is taking place against the backdrop of ongoing Indian concerns over pro-Khalistan violence in the UK as well as some contentious legacy issues on UK defence supplies to India.

An enhanced India-UK defence partnership dates back to the April 2022 Indian visit of former prime minister Boris Johnson, who announced the creation of an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) for India which the UK government said would “reduce bureaucracy” and help in “slashing delivery times for defence procurement”.

As both India and the UK prepare for a general election this year, all aspects of the relationship are in sharp focus, including sped-up negotiations towards a free trade agreement (FTA) expected to significantly enhance the £36 billion bilateral partnership.

(Agencies)

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