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UK PM Cameron to visit India in July

July 14, 2010 03:09 IST

UK's new coalition Prime Minister and Tory party leader David Cameron is all set to 'carpet bomb' India in the last week July. In his first foreign state visit since he took office two months earlier, Cameron is expected to land in India with half his cabinet colleagues on July 26, two days ahead of his formal diplomatic mission.

Though the British Foreign Office or India's Ministry of External Affairs are yet to officially announce his itinerary, sources in the UK government said Cameron himself would first land in Bangalore, while his cabinet colleagues will fly into other state capitals, including Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata and, possibly, Chandigarh as well. This unique format has never been tried before, said foreign relations' experts.

Some key members of the government who will be visiting India with Cameron include Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) George Osborne, business secretary Vince Cable, foreign secretary William Hague and possibly the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King.

As part of Britain's financial austerity drive, the entire delegation is expected to fly economy class on regular commercial flights into India. The high-powered team is expected to start the India sojourn on July 26, reassembling in New Delhi on July 27 to brief Cameron on their individual visits to various state capitals, at a mini-Cabinet meet. Cameron's scheduled official meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is on July 28, according to sources here.

Labour neglect

Part of the hype is meant to undo what Tory party MPs believe was the 'neglect of India' by the Gordon Brown government. Part of it could also be due to persisting differences on Afghanistan and due to Britain's decision to reduce aid spending as part of its budget spending cuts.

Cameron's visit, though yet to be played up by the media here, has elevated the expectation of members of the government, both in the UK and in India. Soon after forming a government in May, Cameron and foreign secretary Hague had announced  plans to forge a "new and strategic relationship" with India.

There is a general belief in the government and in a section of the Tory party that the earlier Labour government had not done sufficient work on improving bilateral relations with India during its 13-year reign that ended in May this year.

A group selected from the Cabinet Office, the Prime Minister's Office, Foreign Office and office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was formed weeks ahead of Cameron's visit. It has been preparing the ground for the 43-year-old head of the British government's first state visit since he took office.

Likely to be discussed at length during Cameron's visit are the business and economic relationship, the G-20 future agenda and the future of Britain's and India's role in Afghanistan. Ahead of the two heads of government meeting in Delhi, George Osborne and Mervyn King are expected to meet leaders of Indian business and Reserve Bank governor Duvvuri Subbarao in Mumbai.

A battalion of business leaders are expected to accompany Cameron. Businesses from the retail and financial services sectors are expected to be represented in large numbers within this group. Informally, Cameron has also asked Tory MP Jo Johnson to be his advisor on his India strategy. Johnson was first elected to the House of Commons this year. He was the South Asia bureau chief for Financial Times and based in New Delhi between 2005 and 2008.  He is also the younger brother of London's mayor, Boris Johnson.

S Kalyana Ramanathan in London