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Boris Johnson will promise to sell more arms to India when he meets Narendra Modi for crunch talks in New Delhi today.

But the Prime Minister yesterday came under fire after posing at a JCB plant while its bulldozers were used to clear Muslim slums.

Human rights campaigners branded Mr Johnson’s visit as ‘ignorant’ amid plans to reduce Indian reliance on Russian military equipment.

The UK will make it easier to export defence kit by issuing an Open General Export Licence (Ogel) to India to reduce bureaucracy and shorten delivery times – the first Ogel in the Indo-Pacific.

Boris Johnson posed on a JCB tractor in Vadodara next to chairman Lord Bamford (lower right)

Boris Johnson posed on a JCB tractor in Vadodara next to chairman Lord Bamford (lower right)

Boris Johnson posed on a JCB tractor in Vadodara next to chairman Lord Bamford (lower right)

The prime minister, pictured with Hindu holymen in Gandhinagar, is conducting a two-day trip

The prime minister, pictured with Hindu holymen in Gandhinagar, is conducting a two-day trip

The prime minister, pictured with Hindu holymen in Gandhinagar, is conducting a two-day trip

Mr Johnson will discuss defence and security collaboration with the Indian prime minister today –but is set to take a soft stance on the country’s failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

And he will make the case that ‘what (Vladimir) Putin is doing is totally against the interests of stability’ – but is not expected to press India to condemn the Russian president in stronger terms. 

Mr Johnson told ITV last night: ‘I had a conversation with Narendra Modi many weeks ago, in which I made the point to him that India is a massive influence in the world, one of the world’s great powers…

‘I will certainly be making the case that what Putin is doing is totally against the interests of stability.’ 

The PM also announced that dozens of Ukrainians are being trained in Britain to use armoured vehicles, while Ukrainians in Poland are learning anti-aircraft defence. 

Personnel will be trained on combat vehicle reconnaissance and protective mobility vehicles.

Mr Johnson provoked controversy when he met with Lord Bamford a day after JCB trucks were used by the Indian government to clear Muslim slums

Mr Johnson provoked controversy when he met with Lord Bamford a day after JCB trucks were used by the Indian government to clear Muslim slums

Mr Johnson provoked controversy when he met with Lord Bamford a day after JCB trucks were used by the Indian government to clear Muslim slums

Mr Johnson was met with a carnival-like welcome when he landed in India yesterday morning. In Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, hundreds lined streets adorned with billboards welcoming him to the city.

At the inauguration of a new JCB factory in the Gujarati city of Vadodara, he was shown around by the company’s owner Lord Bamford, a major Tory donor.

But his photo op came as the Indian Supreme Court stepped in to stop bulldozers which demolished illegal shops and walls around a mosque in a predominantly Muslim area of New Delhi on Wednesday.

Clashes in several parts of India have been followed by demolition drives, which critics say are an attempt by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to intimidate India’s 200 million Muslims.

Last night the Indian branch of Amnesty International branded the PM’s visit ‘ignorant’ and said ‘his silence on the incident is deafening’. Mr Johnson suggested he would raise the issue with Mr Modi, who is accused of whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment.

The Prime Minister said: ‘We always raise the difficult issues, of course we do, but the fact is that India is a country of 1.35 billion people and it is democratic, it’s the world’s largest democracy.’

Downing Street last night defended the visit, saying it was ‘a matter for the Indian authorities’ and ‘JCB is a great example of a UK company that has invested heavily in India’.

The Prime Minister also repeated a suggestion that he was willing to offer more visas to Indian workers and students, saying India could help fill a ‘massive shortage’ in IT workers in Britain, as well as providing staff for the NHS.

Mr Johnson said ‘a great deal’ was there to be made.

So can Boris break the ties that made India Putin’s ally?

Commentary by Kapil Komireda, author of Malevolent Republic: A Short History of the New India

Boris Johnson is no stranger to India. His ex-wife, Marina Wheeler, is the daughter of a prominent Indian socialite and Johnson was once a familiar figure in Mumbai and Delhi.

This attachment means that, unlike some of his predecessors, he is keenly alert to the sensibilities of his hosts who yesterday gave him a lavish welcome in Gujarat.

The PM has been warmly received during the visit. He arrived in New Delhi yesterday

The PM has been warmly received during the visit. He arrived in New Delhi yesterday

The PM has been warmly received during the visit. He arrived in New Delhi yesterday

He is the first British PM to visit the state — a smart move diplomatically, given that Gujarat is the home state of India’s PM, Narendra Modi, while many Gujaratis have made their homes in the UK. 

Post-Brexit trade deals are the focus: two previous visits were cancelled because of the pandemic – and the pressure is now on.

But there is an unexpectedly awkward obstacle in the way: the war in Ukraine. This has emerged as a major source of contention in diplomatic relations between India and the West. 

The world’s largest democracy has historic links to Britain and is its key trading partner. India has also become a close partner of the US, courted by Washington as a democratic counterweight to China. 

And yet India has consistently refused to condemn Moscow’s invasion.

In early March, the US state department went so far as to issue a memo accusing India of belonging in ‘Russia’s camp’ although it was quickly recalled.

Boris tried to push Delhi to take sides by dispatching Foreign Secretary Liz Truss with no obvious success. But he does understand that Britain has more to lose than gain by appearing to pressure India to abandon Moscow.

Mr Johnson will try to convince Indian officials to reduce reliance on Moscow-made weapons

Mr Johnson will try to convince Indian officials to reduce reliance on Moscow-made weapons

Mr Johnson will try to convince Indian officials to reduce reliance on Moscow-made weapons

Delhi has been Russia’s closest Asian partner for over five decades. Theirs is a relationship forged during the Cold War, when the US sought to isolate India, struck an entente cordiale with China, and patronised Pakistan with weapons and aid.

In parallel, Moscow deployed its veto power to shield India at meetings of the UN Security Council when necessary, maintained a vital trade relationship and also supplied essential military hardware.

The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once told Indians that ‘if you ever call us from the mountain tops we will appear at your side’.

In 1971, India made that call when Pakistan’s military junta, backed by the US, perpetrated a genocide in what is today Bangladesh, slaughtering three million Bengalis and displacing ten million people.

When India authorised military action after Pakistan’s pre-emptive strikes on Indian airfields, the US and Britain dispatched naval fleets to the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India.

Moscow sent a rival fleet to defend it. Bangladesh was liberated in days, but that experience, in which fellow democracies lined up behind a genocidal regime, served to shape the worldview of a generation of Indians.

India still depends on Moscow for the majority of its defence needs. 

And given its geographic curse – positioned between two hostile nuclear adversaries, Pakistan and China, who have both waged wars against it – it can scarcely afford to antagonise its principal military supplier.

All of this explains why Boris Johnson will refrain from overt hectoring of Delhi on its Moscow ties, although he is likely to promote Britain’s expertise in the defence industry as an alternative to Russian weaponry.

His goal, however, is to secure an ambitious deal with India to eradicate barriers to free trade.

India is already the second-largest source of foreign direct investment into Britain. Between 2020 and 2021, Indian companies invested in 100 British projects and created nearly 5,000 jobs.

On the other side of the ledger, British investment into India, the third largest, is responsible for one in 20 jobs in the private sector.

The PM’s first act in India was to announce trade deals covering health and software which will create 11,000 jobs in Britain. 

A free trade deal has thus far proved difficult, in part because India, due to its colonial past, is highly protective of its market.

The US and the EU do not have bilateral free trade deals with India. 

While he may struggle to change India’s stance on Russia, Johnson is confident of achieving, before the end of 2022, what has long eluded his predecessors at home and his peers in the West.

Source: Daily Mail

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