I was born in South London, but like millions of British people, my family’s story embodies the “living bridge” that connects the UK and India.
My father moved to Glasgow with only £5 to his name. He worked hard, initially on the railways, studied hard to become an accountant and married my mother, who was born and spent her formative years in Jodhpur. Her father, Mir Attaullah Khan, had served as Treasurer in the Royal Court of the Maharaja.
Your families may have similar stories, and it is these bonds that help make the partnership between the UK and India so strong and so special.
In the almost 76 years since India’s independence, the UK-India relationship has evolved into a constructive and future-facing partnership of equals. We see the fruits of this partnership every day: in the food we eat, the languages we speak, the communities we live in – and the fact that we have the first ever Prime Minister of Indian heritage in No.10.
This week, as UK Foreign Minister of State, I have travelled to Jodhpur, Delhi and Hyderabad to celebrate how far we have come, and explore what more we can do together. I brought a message from our Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary that we want to deliver a ‘quantum leap’ in UK-India relations.
We are natural partners. We already have an ambitious joint ‘2030 Roadmap’ which sets out our shared priorities, and we are working to deliver on it and support India’s ambitious G20 presidency, as part of our enduring engagement with the wider Indo-Pacific.
Our engagement is not just about potential – it is already making a real-world difference. From our enhanced cooperation on climate change and health, to closer defence and security ties – which are vital to supporting stability and democracy in the Indo-Pacific and closer to home, as we continue to stand with Ukraine. We are also working hard to double trade between us by 2030, with Prime Ministers Sunak and [Narendra] Modi agreeing at this month’s G7 summit to work at pace to finalise an ambitious and mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement.
The UK and India are science, technology and innovation superpowers. Together we have saved and transformed the lives of billions of people and it has been a key objective of my visit to further strengthen our cooperation.
Since 2008, the UK and Indian Governments have committed over £400m to joint research and innovation projects. Health has been a major priority, including working together to tackle global threats like malaria and COVID 19.
The partnership between Oxford University, AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India enabled over a billion people in developed, lower and middle income countries to receive a COVID vaccination, saving lives and slowing the spread of the pandemic around the world.
In April, we signed a landmark Science and Innovation agreement that will enhance our joint work in key areas – from pandemic preparedness and Artificial Intelligence, to achieving Net Zero. This will not just shape the future of our relationship, but the future of our planet.
This week I met young Indian scientists and innovators working to overcome the greatest challenges we face.
In Delhi, I announced the winners of the UK India Health-Tech Bootcamp, which supports start-ups to develop health technologies of the future, and I launched a new employment scheme helping young people learn English.
In Hyderabad, I visited the world’s largest innovation campus. I also spoke to impressive alumni of our hugely successful Chevening scholarship programme for future leaders, who we had sponsored to study at the UK’s leading universities and are already making a big difference in their communities.
In Jodhpur, I saw how our judicial cooperation is making a real difference and met members of the next generation of women leaders. I was proud to have visited my maternal ancestral home as the UK Minister for India and pleased that I was able to use some of my time to explore my own connections with the city, and the region’s rich history and communities. Over 70 years since the UK became our family home, the poignancy of the moment was something quite special.
All our ongoing cooperation epitomises the UK-India partnership: working and investing together for the benefit of all. The bonds between people and communities are the lifeblood of the relationship and I am proud to be a part of this vibrant and diverse “living bridge” that connects us.
The UK and India have so much to offer each other, not least the extraordinary ability of our people to shape the world of tomorrow through science, technology and innovation.
That is why the UK Government is investing in our partnership, because as Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘The future depends on what you do today’.
(Lord Ahmad is the Minister of state for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and UN)