Austrian statesman Klemens von Metternich, who devised the balance of power system in early nineteenth-century Europe, once said that events which cannot be prevented must be directed.
British Foreign Minister Liz Truss appeared seized of such pragmatism, as she conducted a maiden business-like visit to India between 22 and 24 October. This is apparent from where she travelled, whom she met, and what she said.
Truss arrived in Delhi from Doha, after meeting both the Emir of Qatar and his Prime Minister. While the press focused on her glad-handing, Truss’s tweets were terse and to the point: she was in Doha to renew focus on an Afghan debacle already forgotten by the world.
This is important and marks a British resignation to a truth that can’t be prevented, since Qatar had been the Taliban’s political base for years, until they took Kabul in August. What specific message she carried from Doha to Delhi we won’t know, but her itinerary speaks for itself.
Meanwhile, Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, and the Royal Navy’s flagship, Queen Elizabeth, sailed into Mumbai harbour. Again, Truss’s tweet was terse: to paraphrase, the vessel’s visit symbolised Britain’s efforts to maintain relevance in global affairs, an underscoring of China as her key security concern, and a desire to improve military ties with India.
In a separate visit at the same time, Britain’s First Sea Lord of the Admiralty, Tony Radakin, met his Indian counterpart, Admiral Karambir Singh, in Delhi. ‘Great to catch up with my good friend’, the visiting naval officer tweeted.
In Delhi, Truss’s main meeting was with our External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar. Raisina Hill’s press release said that the main focus was on trade. This is important for Britain, since their exit from the European Union means that they need to devise similar trade agreements with other large economies like India.
Once again, there was a note of Metternich-ian inevitability to the visiting dignitary’s tweet: ‘Our relationship [with India] will be vital over the coming decades’.
Pertinently, paragraph four of the press release pointedly referred to a multi-polar world and multilateralism. Semantics aside, this is important, since it reiterates Britain’s rather late acceptance that India will not be bound to any one particular military alliance (in this case, NATO).
There was also the usual verbiage about Afghanistan, but as long as land access to that country remains restricted, these are just words which indicate that Britain recognises India’s security concerns.
Truss then met Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman. If press reports are to be believed, a good deal of British investment may be expected into India over the coming years.
Her final meeting in Delhi was with Bhupender Yadav, Union Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change. Now, on the face of it, this might look like a stock meet by an industrialised Western power, to mitigate their collective cop out at the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference – that annual exercise doomed to failure, where the West tries to make poor and developing countries pay for global warming engineered by the Occident.
However, readers must not forget that Mr Yadav is a rising star, so we must treat this as the main political meeting of Truss’s visit (even if Yadav will deny it vehemently!) – once more, a reflection of the inevitability, that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will remain a dominant political force for some time yet.
Consequently, we may infer that the British Foreign Minister’s visit marks an acceptance of geopolitical inevitability, and a hard-nosed effort to demonstrate that India’s interests will be respected, even as Britain pursues her own.
Thus, on the face of it, it appears that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had deputed his Foreign Minister to Delhi, to direct that which cannot be prevented.
If so, then the British government would do well to heed another of Metternich’s quotes in mind, while dealing with India: ‘Any plan conceived in moderation must fail when the circumstances are set in extremes’.
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