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Trade, education, tech focus areas during Modi’s UK visit

Theresa May, seen here with Narendra Modi, visited India last year on a trade mission
Theresa May, seen here with Narendra Modi, visited India last year on a trade mission

Technology, education and trade will be the key areas of cooperation that will be discussed between India and the UK when India prime minister Narendra Modi meets his British counterpart Theresa May next week.

Modi is scheduled to visit the UK from April 17-20 for the Commonwealth Heads of the Government Meeting. During the visit, he will hold a bilateral meeting with May on April 18 and also have an audience with Prince Charles.

The meeting gains significance as it comes in the backdrop of Britain’s decision to exit the European Union. The Brexit “divorce” process is currently underway, and although the UK can strike its own trade deals but they cant be enforced until January 1, 2021. May had visited India in November 2016.

Dominic Asquith, the British high commissioner to India, said the UK is keen on an agreement for mutual recognition of academic qualifications with India.

A similar agreement was signed between India and France during French president Emmanuel Macron’s maiden visit to New Delhi last month.

“Discussions are underway and we would very much like that to happen,” Asquith told reporters.

The UK is an attractive foreign destination for Indian students. Nearly 14,000 Indian students pursue masters in the UK every year.

Asquith also sought to assuage India’s concerns over the UK’s visa policy. In 2009, the UK tightened its immgiration rules and also made regulations post-study visa stringent.

“More than half of all our work visas go to Indians,” the high commissioner said.

Asked about India’s concern about pro-Khalistan elements in the UK, he said if there is any evidence of incitement, his country takes it very seriously. “It applies to Khalistan, and it applies to others,” Asquith said.

The issue is likely to come up during Modi-May talks.

Yesterday, during a media briefing on Modi’s visit to the UK, K Nagaraj Naidu, joint secretary (West Europe) said Modi and May will launch the India-UK Tech Alliance comprising young CEOs from the two countries.

Modi will also address a townhall in the UK.

A visit to the three-storey house in London, where Babasaheb Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian Constitution, lived as a student in the 1920s, is also likely. The property has been acquired by the Maharashtra government.

Responding to a question on Indian fugitives staying in the UK, including liquor baron Vijay Mallya, the British high commissioner said the issue was judicial in nature and it was the responsibility of the judiciary.

India has sought Mallya’s extradition, wanted in an alleged money laundering and fraud case, but he has challenged it in a court in the UK.

Talking about trade, Asquith said the trade between India and the UK has increased by 15 per cent in comparison to last year. India is also the fourth largest investor in the UK.

The UK was among India’s major trading partners during 2016-17 and ranked 16th in the list of India’s top 25 trading partners, according to official figures from the Indian side.

During his visit to Amritsar last year, London Mayor Sadiq Khan had said that the British government should apologise for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre.

Asked whether any such move is expected during Modi’s visit, Asquith said then British prime minister David Cameron has already expressed regret over the massacre.

“Former prime minister David Cameron in 2013 had said the massacre was deep shame for the British history. The British government rightly condemns the events of the time,” he said quoting Cameron.