In the wake of the economic slowdown in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron’s three-day trade visit to India was significant in many ways. He made strong pitch for Indian investors, students and bilateral relations. The British Prime Minister also assured India Britain would offer support with the probe into the AugustaWestland chopper scandal currently rocking the Indian government.

It was Mr Cameron’s second visit to India in three years, and with the biggest ever delegation of more than 140 members. Was it a ploy, or a sincere effort to improve relations with its former colony? Among Indians, the jury is still out.

David Cameron, Aamir Khan

British Prime Minister David Cameron, center left, and Bollywood actor & UNICEF ambassador to promote child nutrition Aamir Khan, center right, interact with students at the Janaki Devi Memorial College in New Delhi, India, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Mr Cameron not only interacted with Indian students, business delegates and the Indian Prime Minister, but also visited Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar where in 1919 British General REH Dyer unleashed a massacre in which more than 1,000 Indians who had assembled for a meeting were mown down.

Facing the past

During his visit to the site in 1997, Prince Philip had described the death count as “vastly exaggerated”, causing serious offence in India. Queen Elizabeth II hasn’t said a word about the massacre, let alone apologise for it.

But, this time there was strong speculation in the Indian media that Prime Minister Cameron would apologize for the British cruelties in colonial India. Some said “if he doesn’t apologize, his visit is meaningless”, while the other voice was “if he apologizes it would be welcomed across India”. Others felt “what does it matter after nearly a century?”, while for most it was simply “this particular gesture of Mr Cameron will certainly strengthen the special ties he aspires to bond with India”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, center, visits the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, Wednesday. Pic: AP.

In the end there was no formal apology, but what seemed to be a sincere expression of regret. On Wednesday, during a visit to the massacre site, he called the killings the killings “a shameful event in British history.” He also laid a mourning wreath at the site. He came, he saw and he made his point, said the observers.

Immigration issues

He also touched upon the young heart of Indian students for whom UK has been a favourite destination for studies, next only to the US. The strict visa rules for the non-European students introduced in last summer significantly caused a 30% decrease in the number of Indian student visa applications to the UK over the past year.

Now, Mr Cameron has promised to relax the visa rules as ‘Indian students are key to British higher education’. Both Prime Ministers agreed to increase university-to-university collaborations and also to enhance cooperation in skills educations.

“The announcement by Prime Minister Cameron means a big difference for Indian students who aspire to go to UK for higher studies. Its a welcome move,” said journalism student Alok Gupta, who wishes to continue his studies in the UK.

Trade and business

The two Prime Ministers also had a wide-ranging discussion on bi-lateral relations, particularly on how to enhance cooperation to develop Indian’s defense industry through greater emphasis on technology transfer, co-development and co-production.

Mr Cameron first visited India in the year 2010 when bi-lateral trade between the two countries was $12.6 billion, rising significantly to $16.2 billion in 2011-12. Britain is now the largest European investor in India, he declared in Mumbai. Now, said the British Prime Minister, both the countries are on track to take trade to $35 bilion by 2015.