Date: 09 Feb 2012


David Cameron pays price in India for poor links with Gandhi dynasty Prime minister's trade mission to India grated with Gandhi family which preferred low key approach of David Miliband \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Downing Street is, to put it mildly, deeply irritated that Britain has lost out to France in a 10bn defence contract to supply fighter jets to India. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Aides said the prime minister would work hard to persuade the Indian government to change its mind after Delhi announced that the French Dassault Rafale jet would be its first choice over the Eurofighter Typhoon. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The announcement was a personal blow to Cameron who picked India as the destination for his first major overseas trade mission as prime minister in July 2010. The prime minister, who was accompanied by six cabinet ministers and captains of British industry, wanted the visit to highlight a new focus on trade in foreign policy. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ But the decision by Delhi this week shows the prime minister's hopes that Britain's historical links with India would open a new era appear to have foundered. France, which ran the small outpost of Pondicherry on India's east coast until 1954, appears to be a bigger player in Delhi, capital of the rather larger British Raj which stretched from Karachi in the west to Chittagong in the east until 1947. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ There are no doubt lots of technical reasons for Delhi's decision to opt, on an initial basis, for French fighter jets rather than the British-backed Eurofighter Typhoon. It is cheaper for a start. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ But the abruptness of the decision highlights one of the prime minister's central weaknesses in his relations with India: he appears to have no links with India's real decision makers, the Gandhi family. Cameron says he has excellent relations with Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart. He will be raising the defence contract with Singh. But Singh is a technocrat with little real power. Power within India's ruling Congress Party rests with the Gandhis. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The prime minister did not meet any Gandhis on his visit. Sonia Gandhi, the widow of the former prime minister Rajiv, withdrew from a meeting with Cameron. This was not a snub because she has been seriously ill.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ The more ominous signal was the decision of her son, Rahul, to fly to London shortly before the prime minister landed in Delhi. Rahul, great grandson of independent India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, is close to David Miliband. They bonded in 2009 when they stayed the night in a hut in a village in Rahul Gandhi's Uttar Pradesh constituency after Miliband was invited to visit the "other India". \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Rahul Gandhi has no links to the Tories because the party neglected the Gandhis during its years in opposition. Cameron's approach during his visit to India also grated with the Gandhis. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Sonia Gandhi has been the guiding hand for Manmohan Singh's government which has helped turn India into an economic giant. But Congress portrays itself as the party of the poor. Pitching up in India with a planeload of business leaders and talking about grabbing business audiences in front of a glitzy audience in a five star hotel, as Cameron did in Delhi, is seen as rather vulgar in the Gandhis' eyes.\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ It is understood that Rahul Gandhi's thinking on this was reflected by Miliband. The former foreign secretary once described the prime minister's approach on foreign policy as "low-grade mercantilism". Spending a night in a hut hundreds of miles from Delhi is, in Miliband's view, a more effective way of influencing India. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ A decision on fighter jets is unlikely to have been made by the Gandhis. But senior Tories say that Britain would punch at a higher level in Delhi if the Tories had built better relations with the Gandhi dynasty which has provided three prime ministers since independence in 1947. \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Posted by Nicholas Watt Thursday 2 February 2012 12.11 GMT Article history ================================== 000000000