India’s Relations with the British after 1947

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Context: After years of perceived inertia between them, India and the United Kingdom are ramping up ties as the latter repositions itself on the world stage after Brexit.

Mains: GS II- 

  • Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
  • Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora.


Historical background:

The relations between India and the UK are more than 400 years old and hence bound by strong ties of history and culture. From 1600, when the East India Company began trading, the relationship evolved in several distinct phases:

  • East India Company (1600–1857):
    • The first phase, with the English buying exportables in India and using Indian ports as entrepôt for their trade-in Southeast Asia, lasted 150 years.
    • Then in the mid-eighteenth century, East India Company moved into the political vacuum created by the decline of Mughal power and took over several parts of India starting with Bengal and Carnatic (today’s Tamil Nadu).
  • After the revolt of 1857: 
    • Power was transferred from East India Company to the British Crown (royal family).
  • British Raj (1858–1947):
    • In 1858, the British Government assumed direct control of the territories and treaty arrangements of the former East India Company.
    • Opposition to British rule increased, both through violent revolutions and nonviolent resistance
    • India achieved independence from Britain after a long struggle in 1947.
  • The Republic of India (since 1950):
    • In 1950 India became a Republic and the link with the British crown was severed.
    • India decided to remain in the Commonwealth of Nations after becoming a Republic.
    • Both Britain and India have since pursued quite divergent diplomatic paths.


Relations after independence

Economic relations:

  • From 1947 till the end of the century, India continued to be an importer and recipient of FDI from the UK.
  • Great Britain was a leading country in giving foreign aid to India, including the steel plant at Bhilai.
  • Then during the first decade of the twenty-first century, India became an exporter of capital.
  • From being a weak trading partner in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, India has emerged as a potential powerhouse in the twenty-first.
  • The latest phase of Indo-UK trade and economic relations stand at an equal footing.
  • India is not just a market for British goods or a destination for investment, it is also a major investor in the UK and a trading partner.  Tata has purchased Corus and Jaguar.
  • As the UK withdraws from the EU, will have to join the WTO and negotiate free trade agreements with the rest of the world. This is likely to give India a strong bargaining position.
  • Thus the next main agenda will be the shape of the UK–India FTA.
  • The India-UK bilateral trade in goods has been in the range of $15.45 billion during the FY 2019-20, remained in favour of India, but reduced by 11.33% in comparison to the previous year.
  • The UK ranked 14th in the list of India’s trading partners during the year 2019-20, slipping from the second position in 1998-99.

Political relations:

  • Politically, relations between India and the UK occur mostly through the multilateral organizations of which both are members, such as the Commonwealth of Nations, the World Trade Organization, Asian Development Bank, G7, G20, etc.
  • Britain's Prime minister has invited the Indian Prime minister to take part in the G-7 summit, which will be hosted by the UK Government next year.
  • In terms of political forces behind economic development, Western powers look to India as a case study contrasting democracy-led growth and state-guided growth, the latter of which has been the modus operandi for China.

Defence and strategic ties:

  • India has multifaceted cooperation in the defence sector with the UK.
  • We have institutionalized defence dialogue at the Defence Secretary level.
  • India and UK signed a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Declaration in 2010 which will help promote and facilitate cooperation in the nuclear field including nuclear trade and also between the scientific institutions of the two countries.
  • India, UK conduct Ajeya Warrior joint counter-terror Army exercises.
  • The Indian Ocean is identified as a vital arena for closer defence and security cooperation between the two countries.
  • Further, India needs the UK’s support on international fora for its aim to have a permanent seat in UNSC and full membership of NSG.
  • Although India is the world's second-largest arms importer, the acquisition of arms from the UK remains limited, focusing largely on 123 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft from the UK's largest defence company BAE Systems in 2008.

Cultural and historical relations:

  • Cultural ties are perhaps one of the strongest features of the UK-India relationship reflecting the UK’s soft power.
  • Tourist numbers are high in both ways.
  • There has been a gradual mainstreaming of Indian culture and absorption of Indian cuisine, cinema, languages, religion, philosophy, performing arts, etc.
  • India and the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cultural Cooperation in 2010. 
  • 2017 was declared as the UK-India Year of Culture.


  • Education links are strong: by 2021 the UK-India Newton-Bhabha program will provide more than £400m on joint research and innovation.
  • Various Indian students have gone to the UK to attain higher levels of education.
  • Over the last 10 years, the relationship has grown substantially with the introduction of bilateral mechanisms such as the India-UK Education Forum UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI).

Science and technology:

  • India-UK Science and Technology Cooperation started with the signing of the Science and Technology Agreement in 1996.
  • In 2006, a new orientation was given to S & T Cooperation with the setting up of the ‘Science and Innovation Council’ which is the main framework within which India-UK Science & Technology cooperation operates.
  • Technical cooperation in evolving issues such as Internet governance, cybersecurity, or terrorism. 
  • India-UK also actively cooperate in dealing with climate change.
  • There is a growing focus on enhancing cooperation in the healthcare sector, building on the partnership between the Serum Institute of India and the AstraZeneca PLC to produce the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the Oxford University of the UK.


  • Soon after the independence, India exported skilled and unskilled labor and a diaspora was built up in the process.
  • The Indian Diaspora in the UK is one of the largest ethnic minority communities in the country, with the 2011 census recording approximately 1.5 million people of Indian origin in the UK equating to almost 1.8% of the population and contributing 6% of the country’s GDP.
  • The diaspora- NRIs- collaborated with Indians in capturing and running many businesses.
  • As India is growing at a fast rate, its exports of goods and services, as well as skilled labor, will grow. 
  • The UK is also a strong service export nation, especially in higher education.
  • The present government is focused on deepening engagement with the Indian Diaspora.

Issues in relations:

  • Western countries like the UK and India frequently diverge in international forums, such as the United Nations.
  • After independence, India became a major force within the Non-Aligned Movement, which initially sought to avoid taking sides during the Cold War.
  • This contrasted with Britain's position as a founding member of NATO and a key ally of the United States.
  • The UK hyphenating India Pakistan relations.
  • Issues in immigration policy.
  • No progress in social security totalisation agreement with the UK.
  • Many sticking issues held up an Indo-EU FTA such as duties on dairy products, European agricultural produce, and automobiles.
  • Brexit has created uncertainty in the relations.
  • UK government's failure to formally apologize for the JallianwalaBagh massacre for its 100th anniversary in 2019 was seen as an “important symbolic opportunity” which was missed.
  • India was among 116 nations to vote in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution that demanded the UK withdraw its “colonial administration” from the Chagos Archipelago unconditionally within six months, supporting Mauritius in its quest for restoration of sovereignty over the island chain in the Indian Ocean.

India's invitation to UK Prime minister as Republic day chief guest:

  • British PM Boris Jonson was invited to New Delhi for the Republic Day Parade.
  • However, the trip was cancelled due to COVID-19 related complications. 

Future relations:

  • Being powerful economies with deep history, India–UK economic relations will stay close and strong.
  • UK's trade with India will further expand regarding items of soft power—literature, arts, theatre, films, music—as much as goods and services.
  • India will continue to make its presence felt in the British economy as Indian entrepreneurs will take over more companies in the UK.
  • The UK economy will take five to ten years to fully adjust to the post-Brexit equilibrium.
  • Within that time India will have made up even more ground. The story of the UK–India economic relationship may go back to what it was in 1600.


  • As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is time to reset this relationship.
  • Both countries cannot afford to be complacent or rely on historical connections to deliver a modern partnership.
  • While the UK may pride itself on its thought leadership capabilities, its recent political travails have weakened its voice.
  • By dint of the size of its economy, let alone its population, India’s voice will be louder than the UK’s.
  • The closer the two can come to understand the world in the same way, the more mutually beneficial each can be to the other.

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