How times change!
The East India Company, founded in 1600, continues to be a hated name across the Indian subcontinent which it owned for a century until the 1850s. It became a byword for aggression, oppression, humiliation, exploitation, and massacres. After the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the British Crown disbanded the EIC after its soldiers rebelled against the Raj, and colonized the entire Indian subcontinent for accelerated exploitation with a clear conscience.
Then the tide turned. In just three decades (1920-1950), the British Empire built over three centuries, disappeared.
In 2005, Mumbai-born entrepreneur Sanjay Mehta bought the dormant EIC. In the next five years, he transmuted the bankrupt Company into a customer brand focused on luxury teas, coffees and food and opened its first store in London’s posh Mayfair area in 2010.
What an irony: an Indian businessman turning around India’s former master!
But a rising India is looking beyond the EIC. And, post-Brexit, a fatigued Britain is reaching out big way to its erstwhile Old Crown Jewel it now sees as a big new market, what with India’s march to become the world’s third largest economy by 2030.
There is reason for this renewed British interest in India.
For some three decades, a considerably weakened Britain remained merely a member of the European Union. It had lost all its grandeur in the World War II, despite being a victor, when its seven-seas-wide empire quickly collapsed.
To revivify itself, London saw in Brexit an opportunity to reclaim its lost glory by striking business deals independently of the EU. Many Brexiters even thought of yet another shot at reviving the British Empire and dominate, if not colonize, the world, again the way Turkey is now attempting to revive the Ottoman Empire which died a century ago.
London wants to build a ‘commanding’ new position in the world but the planet is no longer ready to accept its former colonial master. No one is ready to forget that British achieved dominance through trade in the 18th-20th century period.
The next best option, therefore, seems to be a shared glory!
During the British Empire, India was the Crown Jewel. In the 21st century, New Delhi, built by the British a century ago, is emerging as a new world market.
In the 17th century, the Indian spices attracted EIC. In the 21st, Indian software and other technology, besides markets, is attracting London.
That is why, post-Brexit, Britain is trying to forge an entire new relationship with India. After a trade deal with the EU, a fresh agreement with Japan and a continuation of EU-equivalent trading terms with Canada, Turkey and some other countries, Britain is set to offer a new trade deal with India.
Just before Brexit came into force on January 1, 2021, The Daily Express, a Brexit-supporting tabloid, wrote: “What a way to wave goodbye to Brussels! Boris nearing £100 BN trade deal with India’.
In the fast-changing kaleidoscopic world scenario, the two nations are considering trade worth “as high as £50-100 billion two way which is easily achievable,” according to recent media reports.
The two countries have begun discussions. Indian Commerce minister Piyush Goyal has also hinted about an early harvest deal between London and New Delhi. They are expected to begin with cutting duties on some goods as they work towards a larger free trade agreement. Their initial focus areas include the life sciences, information communications technology, chemicals, services, and food and drink.
Britain is also keen on selling to India its services like banking, insurance, accountancy, and law. India’s wish-list includes an easier visa regime for the movement of its professionals in services. Post-Brexit, however, Indian companies, particularly those in the IT sector, that had made Britain a launchpad to reach out to the Continent, may find it difficult to re-access the EU markets as they did before.