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Witness Seminar:

The Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi


Witness Seminar: The Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi Thursday, 17 November 2011 Map Room, Foreign & Commonwealth Office

Edited by M.D. Kandiah

Contents Page Introduction


Brief chronology


Panel 1 – The Gandhi Era: 1980s


Chair: Lord Wright of Richmond, GCMG: Permanent UnderSecretary, FCO, 1986-91. Witnesses: Sir Robert Wade-Gery, KCMG, KCVO: High Commissioner, 1982-87; Sir David Goodall, GCMG: High Commissioner, 1987-91; and Peter Fowler, CMG: Deputy High Commissioner, 1988-93. Panel 2 – From Crisis to Global Player: 1990s onwards


Chair: Andrew Patrick, Director, South Asia & Afghanistan Department, FCO. Witnesses: Sir Nicholas Fenn, GCMG: High Commissioner, 199196; Sir Rob Young, GCMG: High Commissioner, 1999-2003; Sir Michael Arthur, KCMG: High Commissioner, 2003-07. Introductory remarks: The Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford, PC: Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office.


Introduction This witness seminar examined the role and functions of the UK High Commission in New Delhi, principally from the testimonies and perspectives of those who served there. It was the first in a series of witness seminars sponsored by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and part of the Witness Seminar Programme of the Institute of Contemporary British History (ICBH), King’s College London. Since 1986 the Witness Seminar Programme has conducted nearly 100 witness seminars on a variety of subjects: two in particular have related to the functions of UK Embassies: in Washington (held in 1997)1 and in Moscow (held in 1999).2 Both of these witness seminars were chaired by Lord Wright of Richmond and both have been published. These witness seminars have been well received by the academic community, who have increasingly come to see that it is important to examine and analyse how Embassies and High Commissions have worked historically in the promotion of British policy overseas, and also by practitioners. A recent volume (2009) on The Washington Embassy, edited by Michael Hopkins, Saul Kelly and John Young, has demonstrated precisely why it is necessary to know more about how UK Embassies operate and has suggested why Embassies will continue to be important for those who study diplomacy. The volume, as the introduction suggests, offers ‘valuable insights into change and continuity in British diplomatic practice’ over the period; it also shows ‘how the balance of attention . . . varied according to the pressure of circumstances, the current priorities of the government in London and the preferences of individual ambassadors’; and, importantly, confirms ‘the pivotal role’ played by the Embassy and the Ambassadors in maintaining healthy bilateral relations. However, the editors have also pointed out that ‘there are real difficulties in studying the broad work of the embassy’—how it interacted with local staff; precisely how it performed day-to-day necessary social tasks; and so forth.3 We also need to know more about the role of the Ambassador’s spouse and different ways in which she (or he) contributes. The significance of history and the importance of gathering and utilising oral history interviews have also been identified in the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee, The Role of the FCO in UK Government (published 29 April 2011). In oral evidence Foreign Secretary William Hague stated: ‘history is vitally important in knowledge and practice of foreign policy’. He further stated, ‘One of the things that I have asked to be worked up is a better approach to how we use the alumni of the Foreign Office, [and] . . . continue to connect them more systematically to the Foreign Office.’ He went on to say: ‘these people who are                                                                                                                       1

Gillian Staerck (ed), ‘The Role of the British Embassy in Washington: Witness Seminar’, Contemporary British History, Vol.12 No. 3 (1998), pp. 115-38. 2 Gillian Staerck (ed), ‘The Role of HM Embassy in Moscow: Witness Seminar’, Contemporary British History, Vol.14 No.3 (2001), pp. 149-61. 3 Michael F. Hopkins, Saul Kelly and John W. Young, The Washington Embassy: British Ambassadors to the United States, 1939-77 (Palgrave, 2009), p. 2.


really at the peak of their knowledge of the world, with immense diplomatic experience, then walk out of the door, never to be seen again in the Foreign Office.’ For these reasons, it was important to gather the memories of those FCO alumni who have worked at the New Delhi High Commission over a period that has seen India growing in importance as a power on the international stage and as a trading partner and Commonwealth ally of the UK. The seminar was divided chronologically into two panels. The first focused on the period dominated by the Gandhi family; the second examined the period from 1990 onwards, which has seen India emerging from a country in crisis to major global player. There was an audience, consisting of FCO alumni and current staff, academics and students of foreign policy. All participants were told that the witness seminar would be recorded, edited, transcribed and an agreed version published. The transcript of the witness seminar is not meant to be a verbatim account of the discussion and it has been edited for sense by the participant and the editor. If participants have indicated that they wished to add corrections, these have been indicated and are found in the footnotes. Footnotes have also been provided to identify individuals, events and other information that might need clarification for the reader. Copies of the recording have been retained by the ICBH and deposited at King’s College London Library Collections. Dr MD Kandiah Director, Witness Seminar Programme Institute of Contemporary British History King’s College London


Brief Chronology4 NOTE: The following chronology was provided to all participants. It was not meant to provide an exhaustive chronology of Anglo-Indian relations since 1947: it was intended to help refresh people’s memories by covering significant events and milestones in Indian history since 1947, with reference, where relevant, to the UK and to key world events.

1947 Division of India (15 August). Jawaharlal Nehru sworn in as the first Prime Minister. Communal violence erupted and continued until the following year. Negotiation with the UK over Sterling balances and to remain within Sterling Area. 1948 Gandhi assassinated (30 January). Integration of princely states. Further Sterling balances agreement. 1949 Cease-fire in Kashmir. Indian Constitution signed and adopted (26 November) 1950 India became a Democratic Republic (26 Jan.) and Constitution of India came into force. Dr Rajendra Prasad the first President of India. 1951 Final Sterling balances agreement. 1952 India’s economy 3.8 per cent share of world income. Congress Party came to power. 1956 Reorganisation of States along linguistic lines. 1961 Queen Elizabeth II visited India. 1962 Third General Elections in India. India lost brief border war with China (December). 1964 Death of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. 1965 Indo-Pakistan War over Kashmir. 1966 Tashkent Agreement ended the war. Prime Minister Shastri died at Tashkent (1 January). Indira Gandhi elected Prime Minister of India. India left Sterling Area. 1971 Twenty-year treaty of friendship signed with Soviet Union. Indo-Pakistan War; Bangladesh established (formerly East Pakistan).


Prepared by MD Kandiah from various open sourced internet and published sources.


1972 Shimla Agreement committed both India and Pakistan to working through issues bilaterally. 1973 India’s economy: US$494.8 billion. 1974 India exploded first nuclear device – Smiling Buddha AKA Pokhran-I (May). Fakhuruddin Ali Ahmed elected fifth President. 1975 State of Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi. 1976 India and China established diplomatic relations. Opposition Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher visited Mrs Gandhi in India (September). 1977 Indira Gandhi’s Congress Party defeated in General Election by Janata Party. 1978 Prime Minister James Callaghan visited. 1979 Janata Party split: Chaudhary Charan Singh became Prime Minister. 1980 Indira Gandhi returned to power in General Election, heading Congress party splinter group, Congress (Indira). Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash (June). India launched SLV-3 into space carrying Rohini Satellite. Domestic public debt as a percentage of the GDP rose to 36 per cent. 1983 Queen Elizabeth II visit and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in New Delhi. 1984 Operation Blue Star – Golden Temple stormed to capture Sikh separatists (June). Rakesh Sharma goes into space as part of Soviet Intercosmos Space Programme (April). Indira Gandhi assassinated by Sikh bodyguards (October). Rajiv Gandhi becomes PM of Congress (I)-led government. 1985 Bomb on Air India flight 182, en route from London Heathrow to Montreal, killed all on board over the Irish Sea (June). Failed bomb on Air India flight out of Narita Airport, Japan. Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited UK (October). Rajiv-Longowal Accord signed which sought to solve the grievances of Sikhs through peaceful means. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Soviet head of state. 1987 Troops deployed for peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict. 1989 Fall of the Berlin Wall (Nov.). Defeat of Congress in General Election. Vishwanath Pratap Singh PM of National Front-led coalition government (December).


1990 Muslim separatist groups began campaign of violence in Indian-held Kashmir. Indian troops withdrawn from Sri Lanka. Chandra Shekhar PM of Samajwadi Janata Party government (November). India put on watch list of international institutions and credit agencies. The ratings agency Moody downgraded India’s credit rating (December). Foreign Direct Inflows (FDI) only $162 million. 1991 Gulf War breaks out (January). Rajiv Gandhi assassinated by suicide bomber linked to Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers (21 May). PV Narasimha Rao becomes Prime Minister of Congress (I)-led government. Balance of payment crisis: Discussions with the IMF for a withdrawal of $1.2 billion (January). Negotiations with various international institutions. 20 tonnes of gold sold to the Union Bank of Switzerland, worth US$200million (May). Another US$405 million was mobilised by selling 47 tonnes of gold to the Bank of England. Domestic public debt as a percentage of the GDP rose to 56 per cent. External debt reached US$70 billion; Rupee devalued on 1 and 3 July. Overall the rupee depreciated 18-19 per cent. Beginnings of reforms to liberalise economy: Industrial Licensing, Foreign Investment, Foreign Technology Agreements, Public Sector Policy and Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act (MRTP). World Bank authorised of loan of US$500 million to assist with the reforms. 1992 India established full diplomatic ties with Israel (January). INS Shakti – first indigenously built submarine launched (February). SD Sharma elected President (July). Destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh (Dec) by Hindu extremists, which triggered widespread Hindu-Muslim violence. The Securities and Exchange Board of India established under the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act 1992. Dual exchange system introduced: Liberalised Exchange Rate Management System (LERMS). LERMS allowed exporters to convert 40 per cent of foreign earnings under the exchange rate set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the remaining 60 per cent converted using the market exchange rate. 1993 Widespread communal violence following Babri Masjid incident (February-Mar.). Unified exchange rate system introduced (March), no longer control by RBI. Exporters could now exchange the whole of their earnings under this market rate. US$1 = Rs 31.37 (August). 1994 Government monopoly over civil aviation ended.


1995 Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act of 1985 lapsed (May). INSAT 2C and IRSI-C launched. 1996 Congress suffered worst ever electoral defeat. Minority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Vajpayee resigns after thirteen days (May). HD Deve Gowda PM, leading 13-party United Front (1 June). Tariff rates brought down to 24.6 per cent between1996-97. 1997 At Banqueting Hall, London, Prime Minister John Major gave a banquet in honour of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to mark the fiftieth anniversary of independence of those respective countries. He declared these countries shared ‘common values’ with the UK. Congress withdrew support from United Front Government; I.K. Gujaral sworn in Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth II visit (October). Labour Foreign Secretary Robin Cook accompanied the Queen on visit to India and Pakistan. Cook offered, in private, to mediate over Kashmir. Indian Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral was reported to have commented that Britain was a ‘third rate power poking its nose in.’ 1998 BJP formed coalition government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (March). India exploded second nuclear device (Pokhran II). FDI increased to US$3.370 billion over the year. 1999 Vajpayee’s historic bus trip to Pakistan: signed bilateral Lahore peace declaration (February). Brief war with Pakistan-backed forces in Kargil, Indian-held Kashmir (May). Cyclone devastated State of Orissa: nearly 10,000 left dead. Indian Airlines plane hijacked by terrorists and taken to Kandahar, Afghanistan (December). 2000 US President Bill Clinton visited India (Mar.). India’s population estimated to have reached one billion. 2001 Gujarat Earthquake (Jan.): at least 30,000 dead; Tehelka.Com screened videotaped recordings which revealed arms deals and kickbacks to Indian Army officials, ministers and politicians (March). Agra Summit between India and Pakistan ended in stalemate (July). Two aeroplanes crash into World Trade Centre in New York – commencement of the ‘War on Terror’ (11 September). USA lifts sanctions imposed against India and Pakistan after they staged nuclear tests in 1998: linked to both countries’ support for US-led antiterror campaign (Sept.). Launch of the war in Afghanistan by USA, UK and others against the Taliban government and Al-Qaeda (October). Parliament in New Delhi attacked by suicide squad, killing several police. Five gunmen died (December). India and Pakistan mass troops on common border.


2002 Nuclear-capable ballistic missile – the Agni – launched off the Eastern coast of India (January). Godhra Incident (February), in Gujarat: 59 Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya were killed in a train fire. More than 1000 people, mainly Muslims, died in subsequent riots. (2005 investigation found the fire was the result of an accident.) Pakistan test-fires three medium-range nuclear-warhead capable surfaceto-surface Ghauri missiles (May). UK journalist John Pilger claimed in a Daily Mirror article that British arms sales to India and Pakistan were fuelling the disputes between the two countries (29 May). FCO urged UK nationals to leave India and Pakistan, while maintaining diplomatic offensive to avert war (June). Retired scientist and architect of India’s missile programme A.P.J. Abdul Kalam is elected president (July). Prime Minister Tony Blair visit (September): declared that India will be ‘one of the key leading powers of the world’. 2003 War in Iraq led by the USA, UK and others. Two simultaneous bomb blasts in Mumbai (Bombay): several dead (August). India and Pakistan’s declaration of a Kashmir ceasefire (November). Resumption of direct air links and to allow overflights between India and Pakistan. Formation of Strategic Forces Command (SFO) and the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA). Advanced multi-purpose satellite, INSAT-3A successfully launched into space from Kourou, off French Guyana (December). 2004 Indian Government met with moderate Kashmir separatists (January). Congress and allies formed government under the Prime Ministership of Manmohan Singh. India (and Brazil, Germany and Japan) launched an application for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (September). India began limited withdrawal of troops from Kashmir (November). Indian Ocean Tsunami: devastation of coastal communities in southern coast of India and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (December). 2005 Heavy monsoon rains, followed by floods and landslides, affected Mumbai (Bombay) and Maharashtra region (July). Earthquake (epicentre Pakistan-administered Kashmir), killed more than 1000 people in Indian-administered Kashmir (October). 2006 India’s largest-ever rural jobs scheme launched, aimed at alleviating poverty experienced by 60 million families (February). US President George W Bush, visited India and signed a nuclear agreement which gave India access to civilian nuclear technology while India agreed to greater scrutiny for her nuclear programme (March). Strongest economic growth figures for 20 years – 9.4 per cent (May). Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India (November). 2007 Pratibha Patil becomes first woman to be elected president of India (July).


68 passengers (majority being Pakistanis) killed by bomb explosions and fire on a train travelling from New Delhi to Lahore (February). India and Pakistan Agreement to reduce risk of accidental nuclear war (February). First commercial space rocket launched from the Sriharikota base in southern India, carrying Italian satellite (April). Bomb explosion at the main mosque in Hyderabad. Several dead and others killed in subsequent rioting (May). 2008 Congress coalition leftwing partners withdrew support from government following nuclear co-operation deal with USA. Congress survived confidence vote. New alliance formed by some leftwing and regional parties to oppose government (July). Group calling itself Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility of series of bombs which kills 49 in Ahmedabad, Gujarat (July). US Congress ratified Bush’s nuclear deal with India (October). Unmanned lunar probe Chandrayaan-1 launched (October). Series of co-ordinated attacks in main tourist and business areas of Mumbai: 200 people killed and hundreds injured (November). Indians believed that Pakistan was implicitly complicit in the attacks. Official ‘pause’ in peace process with Pakistan Government. Indian cricket team cancelled planned tour (Dec.). 2009 Following Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s earlier visit to India, he commented in an article in the Guardian that ‘resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms, and allow Pakistani authorities to focus more effectively on tackling the threat on their western border’ (January). India and Russia signed deals worth US$700m for supplying uranium (February). Trial of sole surviving suspect in Mumbai attacks (April). Governing Congress-led alliance of Manmohan Singh won General Election, only 11 seats short of an absolute majority (May). Decriminalisation of homosexual behaviour (July). 2010 Bomb explosion at a tourist restaurant in Pune killed several tourists (February). Mumbai attacks gunman convicted of murder, possession of explosives and waging war. Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague visit (July). India’s economy US$4.06 trillion (purchasing power parity); 6.0 per cent share of world income, the fourth largest in the world in terms of real GDP. India reportedly the world’s largest arms importer and receives a significant percentage from the UK (according to Stockholm Peace Research Institute) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).


Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi Panel 1 – The Gandhi Era: 1980s 17 November 2011, 13.30-15.00 Map Room, FCO, London Edited by M.D. Kandiah Chair: Lord Wright of Richmond, GCMG: Permanent Under-Secretary, FCO, 1986-91. Witnesses: Sir Robert Wade-Gery, KCMG, KCVO: High Commissioner, 1982-87; Sir David Goodall, GCMG: High Commissioner, 1987-91; and Peter Fowler, CMG: Deputy High Commissioner, 1988-93. Introductory Remarks: Professor Patrick Salmon, FCO Historians; and Ben Gibbons: Arts and Humanities Research Council. Participants from the floor: Professor Anne Deighton: Professor of European International Politics, Wolfson College, Oxford Dr Keith Hamilton: FCO Historians Dr Chandrika Kaul: Lecturer in Modern History, University of St Andrews Professor James Manor: Institute for Commonwealth Studies Dr Judith Rowbotham: Reader in History and Law, Nottingham Trent University



Professor Patrick Salmon: Thank you all for coming. May I welcome you all on behalf of the FCO Historians, and also of the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College? We are working together—this is a new venture—and we are extremely gratified by the support we have had, the number of people and the range of retired diplomats, serving diplomats, established and aspiring academies, among others, who are here, so thank you very much for coming. I will not say much more. I want to hand over briefly to Ben Gibbons from the AHRC, and with luck we will get through our introductory remarks before 1.30 pm, so that we can start on time. Thank you. Ben Gibbons: Welcome everyone. Thank you so much for coming, and I hope that you will find today very interesting. For those of you who do not know exactly who the Arts and Humanities Research Council are, we are the UK’s largest independent funder of academic research across all the humanities disciplines, including history, law, philosophy, religious studies, culture and languages. We are funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. One of the things we are tasked to do is to develop the relationship between academics and policy-makers working in central Government or Government agencies. Hence our very close interest in working with Patrick and colleagues today, but also with Michael Kandiah from King’s College London. If you work in Government and you have a particular area of work and are interested in finding out what academic studies are taking place, then by all means feel free to get in touch with us if you need help being put in touch with academics. Likewise, if you are a researcher and you have some work that you have been doing over the years that you think would be of interest to people in Government then by all means drop us a line, and we will see what we can do to help. The only other thing I would like to say is that, as was mentioned in the invite, we are recording today’s session and a transcript will be produced. If, during the question and answer session—after we have heard from the panel members—you ask a question, we really need you to sign a consent form on your way out, please. That is a cast-iron requirement of academic ethical standards, so I would be very grateful if you could sign that on your way out. That is everything. I hope you find today interesting, and I would now like to pass you over to our Chair, Lord Wright. Thank you. Lord Wright of Richmond (Chair): Thank you very much. Good afternoon, everybody. Can you hear me at the back? I am afraid you are too close to me to tell my usual joke, which is that WH Auden started a speech by saying, ‘If you can’t hear me at the back, please don’t put your hand up, because I can’t see you.’ That does not apply today. Perhaps I should first introduce myself. I was the Permanent UnderSecretary and Head of the Diplomatic Service during the last year of Sir Robert Wade-Gery’s time as High Commissioner, nearly all the time of Sir David Goodall’s tenure and for the first three years of Peter Fowler’s time as deputy to Sir David. Before I invite our three panellists to introduce themselves, I just have a few words about the ground rules. You have already been told that this is on the record and is being recorded. There will be a transcript, which you will be invited, in due course, to amend, correct and delete—not the whole thing—as


you wish. Secondly, we have one and a half hours for a potentially large agenda, so all speakers should please wait to be called, should identify themselves when speaking for the first time and should keep their contributions as brief as possible. There will be a 30-minute refreshment break between 3 p.m. and 3.30 p.m., before the next panel begins. Before I call on our three panellists to introduce yourselves in turn, may I remind you that the purpose of this seminar is to explain the role and the functions of the High Commissioner and the High Commission during the Gandhi Era and to identify briefly some key events which particularly affected and involved your role? Can I suggest that we try to limit these introductory remarks to 10 minutes each, before moving to the wider agenda? One other introductory point—the Diplomatic Service List for 1992 shows that the High Commission had 37 diplomatic UK-based staff, 13 British Council UK-based staff and 22 UK-based staff divided between what were then called Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The last publication of the List in 2006— regrettably, it is no longer published—shows that there were 74 UK-based staff in New Delhi, 20 from the Department for International Development and another eight in the British Council division, quite apart from the three Deputy High Commissions and the other trade offices and information centres elsewhere in India. So it will be interesting to hear views on the co-ordination required for what, even in 1992, was a very large diplomatic presence. Sir Robert, may I ask you to start? Sir Robert Wade-Gery: Certainly. Can you hear me at the back? I had not been warned that I was going to open the batting on this occasion. It is very characteristic of the Foreign Office to pitch you into things without any warning at all. That was very much the basis on which I went to India. I was selected by the old-fashioned method of going down the list until you found the leastqualified man and then saying, ‘Gosh, that’s it’. I knew very little about India when I got there—just enough to know that it was a very large and very daunting country, and that I had a very large mission. But one great comfort, which became clear right from the beginning, was that I had superb colleagues in that mission, who saw it as one of their roles—thank God—to prop me up all the time. They did it assiduously, tactfully and, by and large, effectively; in so far as they failed, it was my fault, not theirs. I would like to keep this very short indeed, because I would rather proceed by question and answer. When we get to the questions, I will be delighted to do the best I can to answer them. By way of a very brief introduction, let me begin by saying that when I got to India, I worked out that much the most important thing I had to do there was to get to know a lot of Indians—the largest number possible—and to get to know a certain number of them really rather well. That, of course, meant calling on them, meeting them in various contexts and a good deal of entertaining. The second thing I had to do, which was as important and went with that, was getting to know India. I was very conscious that sitting in my office in a protected corner of the British High Commission compound in New Delhi, which is itself an enclave in the diplomatic quarter of New Delhi, I had so many layers between me and India that if I did not get out and get around, I was not going to discover very much. So my wife and I made a rule that if we were not out of Delhi for 10 days in the month, we were not doing the job properly. That was quite hard to stick to, because there were wall-to-wall visitors, some of whom got rather shirty if one was not there when they arrived or when they


left. But we stuck to it, on the whole, and I think it was right. India is, after all, a very, very big country. It is the size of Europe and it has the cultural, climatic and social diversity of Western Europe. People used to ring me up when I was there, before they came on their first visit, and say, ‘What is the climate like in India?’ My answer was, ‘What is the climate like in Europe—do you mean Finland or do you mean Portugal?’ People who do not know India tend to assume that, because it is one country, it must have a certain basic similarity from end to end, and of course it does not. So getting to know India was a major part of the operation, and a very agreeable one, it has to be said. I should briefly mention the bits of the High Commission, because the third thing one was doing was managing the High Commission. That meant knowing one’s way around the various bits that it did. You will all be familiar with the political work of a diplomatic mission, the commercial work, the defence and military work and the consular work. On top of that, of course, is the basic management job. If you have an enormous team of people, and they are turning over all the time, you have to make sure, first, that they are all happy and pointing in the right direction and, secondly, that you are recruiting the right people to replace them. That all took a good deal of time. I have particularly been asked to talk about India as it was under Indira Gandhi5 and Rajiv Gandhi,6 and that is what I ought to turn to now. I was very fortunate in that I was there for five years—two and a half years of Indira and two and a half years of Rajiv—and they were a very interesting contrast in styles. They were very fond of each other, but they were extraordinarily unlike each other. I remember that while his mother was still alive, Rajiv used to say to me, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do if she retires’—the game plan at that point was that she was going to retire and live in a house in Dehradun and he was going to take over—’because I couldn’t bring myself to run India the way she runs India, but if I don’t run it her way, they will all go rushing off to her in Dehra Dun7 saying, “The young man has gone off his head; do something about it”, and my authority will be destroyed.’ In a way, therefore, tragic as it was, he was fortunate that he did not take over in the way that had been envisaged and did take over in the much more dramatic and, indeed, tragic circumstances of his mother being assassinated. He did, at any rate, start with a clean sheet. Indira was about as unlikely as you can imagine. She was an extremely good manager. She was very good with people. She was extremely good at spotting their weaknesses and strengths—building on the strengths and exploiting the weaknesses. Her weakness was that she did not seem to me to have any great interest in what she did with the job. She was passionately interested in power and accumulating power, but when one tried to talk to her about what she was aiming to do during her time as Prime Minister, a sort of veil of boredom would come down over her eyes and she would change the subject. This may be because I knew her only in the last years of her life, and by that time her main object was hanging on. Even so, the contrast was very remarkable between what seemed to me, as a newcomer, the immense possibilities of India in those days and her very quietist approach. Indira was a tiger for detail. The last time that I consciously remember                                                                                                                       5

Indira Gandhi (1917-84), Prime Minister of India, 1966–77; 1980–4. Rajiv Gandhi (1944-91), Prime Minister of India, 1984-9. 7 Located to the north of New Delhi in the foothills of the Himalayas, Dehra Dun (or Dehradun) is a thriving metropolis, containing a number of important government institutions and elite education establishments. 6


seeing her was at a party in Hyderabad House.8 She said, ‘Have you tried the icecream?’ and I said no. She said, ‘Oh, do have some’, so I helped myself, and she said, ‘I spent the morning teaching the chef how to do it, so I want you to enjoy it.’ I took a spoonful and she took a spoonful, and she gave a scream and said, ‘The man’s got it wrong! Come with me.’ We went charging out of the reception room in Hyderabad House into the kitchen, where she got hold of the chef, bawled him out, told him he had got it wrong, told him how he ought to have done it and, in front of him and me, proceeded to give another demonstration as to how it should be done. All this in the margins of running India, and it was very characteristic of her, I think. Wright (Chair): Robert, that is a wonderful story. Can we bring it back now to the role of the High Commission itself? I am delighted to hear you say, and I hope people will take note of this, that your first priority was to get to know as many Indians as possible. Apologies to those to whom I have previously told this story—it is not why I am interrupting you—which was from a predecessor when I was appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia,9 who gave me one of the best bits of advice of my life: he said, ‘If it moves, call on it.’ Robert, if I may, I will now ask David to speak. By all means—all of you— be ready to come in, and I am indeed prepared to take questions from the audience, but for the moment I would like to turn to David. Sir David Goodall: Thank you very much, and thank you for the invitation to heckle. I would echo a lot of what Sir Robert has said.10 I, too, had no previous experience of India at all. It had never really occurred to me that I would end up in India; in a sense, I think Mrs Thatcher11 sent me to India. I do not know whether coming fresh to India that was a handicap or a help. If you go to a country where you have served in a more junior capacity, you already know a lot of people, you know where people fit in, you know what the recent history of the place is and of the people you meet, and so on. Going to India more or less cold, I realised that almost everybody one met and had to deal with had a history, a political history and a relationship with Mrs Gandhi during the Emergency—being on her side or against her—and that you were walking into a dense, highly politicised, highly political and complicated environment. Like Robert, I thought the first thing to do was to get to know as many people as you can. We had to do that by a great deal of entertaining and a great deal of calling on people. We very soon discovered that what we came to think of as discussion lunches were an extremely good weapon for getting to know people and getting to understand India, how the Indians felt and so on. That is the first thing. One thing that struck me very much when you think of the role of the High Commission – and I still think is true: the personal role of the High                                                                                                                       8

Hyderabad House was built in 1926 by Edwin Lutyens as the Delhi residence for the Nizam of Hyderabad. It is now used by the Government of India for official functions. 9 UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1984-6. 10 Written addendum by Sir David Goodall: ‘Not least about the importance of travel. There were the three Deputy High Commissions—in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras (now Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai)—to visit regularly; all the separate state governments to get on terms with, along with the leading provincial politicians; British aid projects to see; and of course the vast and varied landscape, the scale and diversity of India, to get a feel for.’ 11 Margaret Thatcher (Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven), British Prime Minister, 1979-90.


Commissioner and his wife, which is important anywhere, but it is particularly important in India, because personal relations in India are very, very crucial. It seemed to me that, maddening though the Indians could often be—no doubt, we can all be maddening—they responded to you if they felt you liked India and you liked and trusted Indians and regarded them as equals. I suppose, in a way, it was helpful to me that immediately before—I hope I do not offend anybody here; I am Irish myself—I had been dealing with the Irish. The Indian attitude to Britain has a lot in common with the Irish attitude to Britain; that is to say that there is a great deal of admiration, a great deal of resentment, an intense dislike of anything that could be interpreted as patronising and a general suspicion of British good intentions. There were things which were really very similar. I arrived at a time when our official relations with the Government of India were not good, largely because of the insurgency in the Punjab. Mrs Gandhi, remember, had been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.12 There was an active insurgency in Punjab and, I think Robert would agree, there was a deeply rooted belief, particularly in the Government of India, that we were not taking the Sikh terrorist insurgency seriously, that we were harbouring Sikh insurgents and that we were not sharing enough intelligence. There is no doubt about it that there were people high up in the Indian establishment of the day who were definitely hostile. I saw it as my primary task to dispel those suspicions and get the Indo-British official relationship back on an even keel.13 Because personal relations matter a great deal in India, the personality and style of the High Commissioner, his wife and all his staff are very important; and there is a special focus on the person of the High Commissioner. So it is particularly important that one should be seen to understand, sympathise and show that one likes the Indians and respects them. That would be my first comment on the role. The situation I walked into was dominated by the Sikh insurgency in Punjab, which had killed Mrs Gandhi. In Delhi you still—it was surprising if you had never been there before—found armed police checkpoints everywhere, and everybody of any importance had bodyguards. All the time I was in India, I had an armed bodyguard, who went with me everywhere. It was most extraordinary—you could not travel anywhere without a Land Rover full of armed bravos behind you. Just in parenthesis, this had one great benefit. The young Indian Assistant Inspector of Police allocated to us as my Personal Security Officer, who was called Mr Sharma, shared all our travels and became a member of the family. Through him my elder son turned into a Sanskritist, which is what he now is. On the very first outing with Mr Sharma, I thought I would like to have a walk—we were near Fatehpur Sikri. We set off together; I did not know anything about him and presumably he did not know much about me. We walked in silence for a little way, and then Mr Sharma said, ‘Your Excellency, what is your opinion of the poet Keats?’14 Well, I thought that was a pretty good introduction. The most important things that happened, I suppose, during my four and a half years in India were the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the fundamental shock this administered to India’s understanding of herself as a leading figure of non-alignment. The whole international                                                                                                                       12

Mrs Gandhi was assassinated on 31 Oct. 1984 by Satwant Singh and Beant Singh, who were subsequently tried and executed. 13 Written addendum by Sir David Goodall: ‘I got some encouragement when Geoffrey Howe visited India in 1989 and the Foreign Minister’. 14 John Keats (1795-1821), one of the English romantic poets.


perspective shifted as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that took place in slow motion during the whole of my time in India. It radically affected the climate in which we operated in relation to the Government of India, the kind of openness that became possible and all that sort of thing. 15 Then, of course, very sadly, there was the assassination of Rajiv himself. Again, I thought it was part of my job to get to know Rajiv, if I could. To start with—I do not know how Robert found it—the Indians were quite obstructive in the access that I was allowed to the Prime Minister for the first year and a half of my time there. It was only in the second half that I really got to know Rajiv and to like him. I could have a good argument with him, and he really seemed to enjoy it. So his death was quite a shock, as you can imagine. Wade-Gery: May I just chip in to say that, in a way, that was my experience? I was very lucky, however, because I first got to know Rajiv when he had no official position; he was simply the heir apparent. He did not have a job, and he was perfectly happy to come and have lunch and chat, and he was not surrounded by protocol and all that. Once he had succeeded, of course, he became very difficult to see, but by this time I knew him pretty well. So, in a sense, I was off to a flying start. Wright (Chair): Incidentally, that is a very important point. For my three ambassadorial postings, in each case I happened to have met somebody from that country in London before I was ambassador. I retained and maintained a totally different personal relationship with those people when I was ambassador. I was no longer ‘Your Excellency’; I was ‘Patrick’, and we had met in London. That is a very important point that you make about your relationship with Rajiv. Goodall: I would absolutely agree with that. Like you, I met your opposite number, the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Indian Foreign Ministry, AP Venkateswaran,16 before I went to India. Wright (Chair): The Foreign Secretary Goodall: The Secretary of Foreign Affairs, known as the Foreign Secretary. I met him in London. He was very jolly, very amusing – and sharp. I sat in on his talks with you, and I got to know him a little; and I thought that at least there is one significant Indian interlocutor who I actually know before I get there. Unfortunately, about a week before I got there, Rajiv sacked him publicly, without warning—got rid of him—which also told you something about Rajiv. The other thing that happened early on was that, just as I thought things were getting easier and that we were getting somewhere with persuading the Indians that we really were on their side—for instance, against subversion and so on—the BBC produced a Panorama programme on Rajiv Gandhi, which I think was called the ‘Pilot Prime Minister’. The message of this programme, which was quite long—it was a Panorama programme—was that, as a Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi was a pretty good second-rate airline pilot. The effect was absolutely dramatic. I was refused access to anybody, contracts were cancelled and a ministerial visit was cancelled with a week’s notice. We were told that Rajiv had said that nothing must be done for the British for the time                                                                                                                       15

Written addendum by Sir David Goodall: ‘Natwar Singh in his speech of welcome, said “Today, relations between India and Britain are normal—which is most unusual”. Of course he was exaggerating.’ 16 AP Venkateswaran, Foreign Secretary 1986-7.


being and that he was deeply disappointed. That sort of oriental despotism, almost, was a side of Rajiv you did not see until you had experienced it. It took at least six months for our relations to recover from that, which quite coloured my first year or so. Very briefly, and then I will stop, on the role of the High Commission. The largest element of staff—I have not checked this by looking in the Foreign Office list—was the immigration department. The point at which the High Commission came most directly in contact in dealing with the ordinary population of India was through the immigration staff, over which I, as High Commissioner, had limited control. They were operating according to their own rules, and I am sure had the most difficult role themselves. Many of them were people who had never lived abroad before, and there they were—plunged into this tropical, enormous, complicated country. Immigration controls were a continuous source of potential friction with the Indians, I think, and that was quite difficult to manage. Wright (Chair): Was it often the source of personal lobbying? Goodall: Always. Most well-to-do Indians seemed to think that they should personally request a visa from the High Commissioner, so it was indeed. The Immigration Department was very important. I would like to echo what Robert says, and not just out of good manners. I really was very, very fortunate in my support staff—Peter, you came later, but Nigel Broomfield17 was before him—and the commercial staff and the political staff. In those days, we had an admirable official of counsellor rank called the Head of Chancery, who ran the political work of the High Commission and was also a kind of adjutant to the High Commissioner. Much to my regret, as part of the administrative reforms in the service, the post was done away with, but it was a key post in big missions in my day, and certainly in Delhi, so we were very fortunate. Wright (Chair): I have to tell you all, it was my fault. I was overruled by the Board. I strongly regretted the abolition of the post of Head of Chancery. Indeed, I had actually been Head of Chancery myself and had thought that it was the pivotal point of any diplomatic mission, but I am afraid the majority were against me. Goodall: I never understood why that was so, but that is by the way. Wright (Chair): That is another point. Goodall: Perhaps I have said enough to start off. Wade-Gery: I have a quickie on the subject of Rajiv and his time as an airline pilot. Before he became Prime Minister, in the early stages of when I was there, I gave a lunch party for him and his wife, Norman Tebbit18 and his wife, and Sally and me. I reckoned they were the only two people I knew who were heavily involved in politics and who had begun life as airline pilots, and I was interested to see how the conversation would go. It did, indeed, go very well: they liked each other very much. But there was an extremely interesting                                                                                                                       17

Sir Nigel Broomfield, Deputy High Commissioner, New Delhi, 1985-8. Norman Tebbit (Lord Tebbit), Secretary of State for Employment, 1981–3; Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, 1983-5; Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1985-7. 18


contrast. There was absolutely no doubt right the way through that Tebbit thought that he had bettered himself by moving on to become a leading politician; Rajiv was not at all sure. Wright (Chair): Very good. Peter, may I ask you to come in, perhaps with a particular emphasis on the two years in which you were in New Delhi after David had left? Not that I want to annoy or contradict him. Goodall: You are free to contradict anything. Peter Fowler: I should say that I have two of my former bosses here, in that Sir Robert was my boss during my time in the Cabinet Office, and David, as you have heard, was High Commissioner while I was Minister and Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi. Wright (Chair): I think I was also your boss. Fowler: Yes, but you were so senior, sir, you did not come within my ken. I had had a lot of posts before going to New Delhi—I was a Cold War specialist—including Hungary, East Berlin and the Bonn Group, which dealt with inter-German relations with the Germans, the Americans, the French and so on. The end of the Cold War meant that I had to do something else. Fortunately, I had had an early posting to Calcutta, from 1968 to 1971. I left just before—days before—the liberation war started.19 I had, in fact, had meetings, kind of stealthy ones, with the Bangladesh Government in embryo. I would like to echo what has been said about the importance of both empathy for the Indians and also the advantage of previous knowledge. David said he was not sure whether that was a handicap or a help to be a neophyte in India. I certainly found it a great help to have served in Calcutta, partly because not only did I pick up a lot of experience about East India—from Calcutta, we also covered Orissa, Bihar and the north-east states—but also that you met individuals there who, when I came back to New Delhi in 1988, were also around. By then, I had developed something of a passion for India. Although I by no means enjoyed the company of all Indians, I did enjoy and was stimulated by the company of a lot of the people I knew. I would again echo the importance—in New Delhi and the High Commission, as also in the other posts—of one of your chief aims, particularly if you were interested in India, being just to meet an awful lot of Indians and to see as much as you could of India. One was fortunate, of course, in that one had not only diplomatic status and access, but also servants—I also had four children and domestic responsibilities—so you were able to get out in the evenings. Not only did you have servants, but a lot of the people you wanted to meet, whether they were in the law, the press, diplomacy, business or whatever it was, also had servants. Television was not something that at that point you spent much time watching, so everybody used to go out. I would regularly, over five and a half years—I was in New Delhi for an unusually long time, partly because I refused to leave—go to three cocktail parties in the evening in various bits of New Delhi. When I left in 1993 that was breaking down, because New Delhi was getting so big and the traffic was getting worse. I found that if you had a cocktail party somewhere in south Delhi and your next one was in Noida, north of the river, life was getting to an                                                                                                                       19

The Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.


extreme that you could not bear. Fortunately, I was then able to move down the road to Dhaka. As I have said, I also share the thing about getting to know India. I envied the High Commissioners, because they were of course able to take precedence in the time they took touring around India, leaving me with the shop at home and frustrated because of the bits of India I had not been to. I had to adopt a regime of aiming to get up at dawn, which is easier in India than it is in London, and just to drive as far and as fast as one could—fast on Indian roads, before the modern motorways, was a dangerous business. You could get to Northern Madhya Pradesh, deep into Rajasthan or up into the Himalayan foothills, stay overnight—possibly in a little bungalow, left over from the Raj, for local civil servants—and then get back to Delhi for the Monday morning meeting and try to keep awake. In that way, you were able in New Delhi to meet an awful lot of the various elites, right across the board—not Rajiv, at my level, but an awful lot of people—and you certainly met some Prime Ministers, Foreign Secretaries and so on. You were also able to have the experience of getting into the small towns and villages, and seeing something of their life. Of course, south India was more difficult for me, except that you would occasionally go out to Madras, Calcutta or Bombay, visiting those posts. The local Deputy High Commissioner would take you around, introduce you to people and you would expand your experience of India that way. I was lucky that, in those five and a half years, as has been mentioned, I straddled those crisis years—the 1980s and 1990s. Particularly 1989-91 was an extraordinary time in India. You had the start of the big economic change and that crisis in the balance of payments. You had Manmohan Singh20 catching the appalled imagination of every Indian by selling gold—for every Indian, if the wife has to sell her gold bangles, you are in trouble, although at the moment you might be doing it because the price of gold is so high. That was a major change. Although Mrs Gandhi had started to relax some of the licence raj, you had this big change in that, rather quickly, a lot of major changes were made, freeing industry of many of the controls and releasing a lot of entrepreneurial energy. Those controls had not by any means all gone, but that was a major change. You also had, in 1989, the defeat of Congress—a big event—and you had Janata Dal Governments. As has been mentioned, you had the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. That big gap suddenly opened in India’s view of the world and its own place in it. You had the outbreaks of violence in Kashmir, as well as Punjab. Going to visit Kashmir in that period was quite an experience. I did not have David’s problem in that, when I travelled around India, I did not have any security and so on in those times. But when you landed at Srinigar Airport and were taken into a Government guesthouse, you had police vehicles before and after and it seemed that you had checkpoints every 100 yards. I was used to communist Governments, particularly in East Berlin, but this was really rather daunting. Coming back, as the Chairman will remind me, to the question of how the High Commission worked, as the No. 2, with the High Commissioner often away, one had to cover an awful lot of politics in our reporting back. Although that was the Head of Chancery’s primary role, in that he would be able to focus on that and on general administration, that was an awful lot of my own interest and background. I cannot report very much on the effect our reports back to                                                                                                                       20

Manmohan Singh, Minister of Finance, 1991-6.


the FCO had on policy. In a way, I was not really interested; I was obsessed with getting to know India and Indians. One tried to do as useful as possible a job in reports, whether they were dispatches or they were in the continuous stream of reports, but I must say that my own interest in what happened after that was always overtaken by a concentration on what the next thing was in India. In terms of diplomatic co-ordination in New Delhi, which I do not think has been mentioned, I was used, particularly the Bonn Group but also from Calcutta, to meetings with a few diplomatic opposite numbers. In Calcutta, I used to have regular lunches with the Germans and the Americans. In New Delhi, about once a month I would have lunch, at each other’s houses, with my opposite numbers in the American Embassy, the French Embassy—where Dominique de Villepin21, who later briefly became Prime Minister, was my opposite number for a time—and the German Embassy. Generally, one tended to be in the cocktail parties or in institutes such as the India International Centre, which is still a central focal point in New Delhi for policy discussions of all kinds, or somewhere like the Centre for Policy Research. One made really good friends discussing India and trying to understand India, because they too were trying to understand India. If you were Indian, living in New Delhi but from another state, you would obviously know more than I did about a lot of Indian life, but India is so vast and so different that any Indian expert was, on many areas, about as ignorant as you were, so we were all in a common exercise of trying to discuss what was going on and trying to understand it. Sometimes that could be rather dramatic. I remember being at a big cocktail party at perhaps the Finnish Embassy, when news came through of the attack on the Babri Masjid mosque. This was at a time when the BJP had been gaining a lot of strength. Advani22 had been leading these remarkable yatras across north India, gaining a lot of popular support.23 I should mention that, in driving around the little towns and villages of India, on more than one occasion I remember driving into a long high street and finding that, instead of the usual medley of things all over the street, there was nothing until you got to the centre, where the whole population was squatting on the floor around the one television set, owned presumably by the chap who had the biggest shop, in that large village. They were watching the Indian television epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana,24 and you would see what seemed so odd, with the gods jerkily moving along. There were rather elementary techniques— they just looked like puppets and you could see the strings—but the whole population was absolutely devoted to this. There had been this build-up of religious tension and, with the collapse of the Babri Masjid, I felt that at the time—in this cocktail party— one saw a chill run right through the whole assembly. I imagine it was like being in Berlin when Hitler was elected Chancellor or something equivalent to that. People were really scared—what was going to happen? Was there going to be a tremendous outbreak all over India of communal violence? And, of course, there was a lot of communal violence. So life could sometimes have its moments of drama like that.


Dominique de Villepin, French Embassy in New Delhi: deuxième conseiller, 1989-90; premier conseiller, 1990-2. Prime Minister, 2005-7. 22 LK Advani, President of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), 1986-91. 23 Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra (procession) commenced on 25 Sept. 1990 and travelled across a significant portion of Northern India. It was supposed to finish at Ayodhya but was forced to terminate early. 24 The Mahabharata and the Ramayana are Sanskrit epic poems.


Wright (Chair): Peter— Fowler: Coming back to the High Commission— Wright (Chair): May I bring you back? You used the word ‘co-ordination’. Would you like to say a little more about co-ordinating the work of the mission? David has already referred to the immigration staff, many of whom had never been abroad before and did not actually probably know very much about what happened abroad or in the High Commission. Could you say a word about coordinating work? After all, many other Government departments were represented, both in the High Commission and in the Deputy High Commissions. Would you also say a word about a large group of people who have not been mentioned at all—namely, the locally engaged staff? Fowler: Yes. The main regular exercise for co-ordinating the work of the mission was morning meetings. One tried to keep them short. They were, of course, supplemented by people circulating from the various departments the main papers of the work that was continually going on. So you had a chance of reading what your colleagues were doing and then, at the morning meetings, you had a chance of discussing them or somebody would want to bring up some particularly point. One wanted to keep them short—possibly a quarter of an hour, or something like that; or a bit longer, if necessary. The High Commission was different in size from the Deputy High Commissions. If you were a Deputy High Commissioner in one of the three subordinate posts, you yourself would be much more hands on in the consular work—the visa work and so on, which was a big part of it—and also in the business activity. You would have a small staff, and you would be doing an awful lot of it yourself. You would also be very heavily reliant on some key local staff. You would, of course, try to maintain something of a family atmosphere by social activities—inviting people to your own house, to receptions and so on. In New Delhi, because we were a big mission, you would have senior staff running the admin, the consular, the commercial and so on. To some extent, as Deputy High Commissioner, I was a bit removed from that. One had to keep up with it, and people would come to you if they had particular problems. In the course of getting out to these innumerable cocktail parties that left me, I will simply say, with a legacy of gout—Punjabis would pretty much physically pour whisky down your throat, and three cocktail parties a night for five and a half years takes its toll—you were mixing with business people. You would be feeding into the morning meetings or into the commercial department things you had picked up and, sometimes, they were things of specific importance. I remember once, at one outdoor cocktail party somewhere, somebody coming to seek me out and saying that Mr Goenka or Mr Birla wanted to see me. I went over and was asked to recommend a British firm that could be asked to tender for building a new port south of Bombay, which is now the Jawaharlal Nehru Port. I happened to know the P&O chap rather well, and I knew that it had built some ports recently in Australia. I recommended it, told the P&O chap, who came rushing back from Singapore, and eventually it got the contract. So, one was a part of the commercial work and not just of the political. I was less fortunate with the consular work. I had more to do with that when I went on to be High Commissioner in Dhaka,25 because, although it was a huge post in numbers, that loomed rather larger in these terms.                                                                                                                       25

High Commissioner to Bangladesh, 1993-6.


On administration and the local staff, senior local staff were very important and one saw as much of them as one could. They were not all paragons of virtue. We had an old, second-hand Range Rover, and I remember once, after it had been in the High Commission garage, my wife was taking a posse of Indian ladies down somewhere near the airport and one of the wheels fell off. On inquiry, it turned out that the task of replacing the wheel had been delegated by the mechanic to someone who just happened to be passing or someone who knew nothing about fixing a wheel on to a car. You had those things—life in India did have a scale of excellence to incompetence, and that of course remains very important in the assessment of India. You have absolute brilliance in Bangalore, Hyderabad and various pockets, with the IITs and the IIMs,26 but you still have this huge ocean of rural poor and rural illiterates: the average schooling is very poor quality and is possibly, at best, just over four years. India remains a huge tanker—it is very difficult to turn. As I say, that period from 1989 to 1991 was one of the great turning points, and that is still going on. I understand that later we are going to be talking of communications in terms of mobile phones. Do you want to leave that until later? Wright (Chair): This is the result of a private conversation I had with Peter Fowler. It occurred to me, and this is probably for the next session, that there is an interesting break in communications methods between panel 1 and panel 2. Most of my colleagues sitting at this table spent most their life writing despatches, writing telegrams, sending telegrams, writing minutes and writing letters. Virtually none of those, as I understand it, exists any longer. Peter, the reason I mentioned it to you was that, since your time in India goes up to 1993, you may just have seen the dawn of mobile telephones, e-mails, video conferencing and all the other technological means of communication which exist now and, indeed, have virtually overtaken, as I understand it, all the previous methods. Do you want to say anything about that? I am sorry; I have probably said it all for you. Fowler: Yes. Could I issue a lament for the demise of the despatch? When I joined the Foreign Office, I was in the West and Central African Department and I was given a clutch of territories. At that time, a letter or something coming into the Foreign Office started with the desk officer. I think I had a total of four days’ tuition, which was largely, ‘That is a filing cabinet and this is how to shut it. That is a Minister and this is the man who brings the files round.’ I managed to go through the rest of my career with no other training, except for two days at a Civil Service College, of which I remember nothing. But my education in the Foreign Office was reading all the despatches coming from all the worldwide posts, which obviously taught you a lot about the countries they were writing on but also taught you an awful lot about your colleagues, how they approached things and how they learned. I think that is a great loss. I was in at the dawn of the computer age, in that Delhi was one of the three initial posts chosen for a pilot introduction of computers. I was pretty well on the point of leaving, and to some extent I was kind of demob happy, but I remember that this was a rather baffling time. Mobile phones I just do not remember at that point; I am not sure I was there. One was grateful, when I was in New Delhi, for the fact that the phones more or less worked. In Calcutta, if                                                                                                                       26

Indian Institutes of Management(IIMs) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were established by the Indian government in 1961 to promote, respectively, technological and engineering training, and management training.


you wanted to ring Delhi, you had to set aside most of a morning and then you were not confident of success. Things were definitely changing, but I largely— perhaps out of nostalgia and conservatism—was a creature of the old order. Wright (Chair): Incidentally, this touches on a subject which worries me a lot, but which is nothing to do with this seminar—how are historians in the future going to record diplomatic history? David, over to you. Goodall: I was only going to say that I was stimulated by what Peter was saying. I just missed the introduction of computers, e-mails and so on—they started just after I left, mercifully—but one of the great changes that did take place, which started when I was there, was the arrival of satellite television and the mobile phone in India. As Peter says, to start with, to make a long-distance telephone call in India you had to book it hours or sometimes days in advance, and then it did not work because of one thing or another. I well remember the frustration when I was in Calcutta and I was out making a visit. When I came in, I was told, ‘Oh, there was a call from a Minister—for, I have forgotten what—who wants to speak to you urgently’. It was Scindia,27 afterwards Minister for Aviation, I think. I thought it must be important, but I had the most frustrating time trying to return the call—I spent hours and hours of what seemed to me to be the whole of an afternoon and evening trying to get back to the Minister. When I finally got through, he said, ‘High Commissioner, thank you for ringing me back. I just wanted to ask your advice about getting my son into Winchester.’ More seriously, satellite television opened up India to the outside world and really quite suddenly. I do not know what other people thought, but one of the things that struck me when I was in India was that it was a curiously enclosed society. It had all the politics, all the culture, all the linguistic problems—everything that you could want. You had all these magnificent newspapers—I think we used to take 15 newspapers or something—and the only foreign news would be the English county cricket scores. It was very inward-looking. State-controlled Doordarshan television28 was the only television station available, so the arrival of satellite television opened up India to the world, and that was followed by satellite telephones. Going back to India five years later, I found every village had a telephone exchange and was connected to the outside world. Almost every village had satellite television. In my last year, I remember the feeling of astonishment at watching live on satellite television the abortive coup d’état in Moscow—watching tanks rolling down the streets of Moscow live on Indian television. You suddenly realised that that open-ness to the world was going to make a big change, and I think it has made an enormous change to the way Indians perceive the world and perceive themselves. Fowler: Can I just add that this, as it were, provincialism of India had its effect, certainly on me, in that London was a long way away? One followed, in a twodays old Times, or something, roughly what was happening in London, but as a far-off country of which one knew increasingly little. Could I also say that we have not yet mentioned either the BBC or the British Council? Particularly in those prelapsarian days, before the big crisis, the changes and the communications revolution, the BBC was, for a lot of                                                                                                                       27 28

Madhavrao Scindia (1945-2001), Minister for Railways (1986-9); Minister for Aviation, 1989-92. Indian state-owned television Doordarshan was established in 1959.


particularly the elites, a real window on the world. That was very important. We have recently seen the attempt to abolish the BBC Hindi service having to be withdrawn because there were so many protests in India. The British Council, was also a factor of major importance, particularly in spreading the teaching of English—increasingly indirectly, through open universities, long-distance teaching and teaching the teachers of English—and also in picking up the Indian connection with England. As British diplomats, there was this Indian ambiguity that has been referred to—the kind of Irish or love/hate element—but there certainly was a connection, which if you were German, Brazilian or something was not there in those days. This was very important and the British Council and the BBC were big elements of that, plus there was the fact that a lot of your Indian contacts knew London. Increasingly now, we see the harvest of that in that Tata is now the biggest industrial employer in Britain and Indian investments in London are a major part of our economic story.29 Wright (Chair): May I just mention one very quick anecdote? My father-in-law, who died—of illness—during the war, was a Mahratta officer. When, as Permanent Under-Secretary, I visited Bombay, as it was then called, the Deputy High Commissioner, Alan Furness,30 arranged for my wife and me, to go up and visit his grave in Pune. A reception was also arranged by the general commanding the southern region of India, with a whole lot of officers from the Mahrattas and their wives. At the end of a tea party—of extraordinary emotion—my wife was invited to go out into garden, where the Mahratta pipe band had been assembled and played to her. She was then presented with two shoulder flashes, one set for herself and one set for her mother. I must say, tears were not very far away. Wade-Gery: I just wanted to underline one or two things that have been said. I am so glad that both the British Council and the BBC have been mentioned. When I was in India, Mark Tully,31 who was the then BBC correspondent, was regularly voted one of the three most important and interesting people in India. Mark was of course the only non-Indian to come anywhere near this; he was one of the top three, and that was very well deserved. He was one of the people who taught me a great deal about India. When I first got there, if did not know the answer, the answer was to have lunch with Mark and he would sort you out. Goodall: I would second that. Mark Tully was outstanding. Wright (Chair): Incidentally, if none of you know it, he has an extremely interesting programme on Radio 4 every Sunday morning. Wade-Gery: There was a huge British Council in my time—I have no doubt that there still is—and very good it was, too. I had a bit of trouble to begin with, because when I arrived there was a man running it who told me that he had had nothing whatever to do with the High Commissioner and therefore would have nothing whatever to do with me. I got rid of him quickly, and after that we had no trouble. It was an absolutely first class outfit. It was so good because                                                                                                                       29

The Tata Group, established in 1868, is a major multinational. In the UK, its interests include Tetley Tea, Corus Steel, and Jaguar and Land Rover motors. 30 Alan Furness, Deputy High Commissioner, Bombay, 1989-93. 31 Sir Mark Tully, BBC Chief of Bureau, Delhi, 1972-93.


more than three quarters of the staff were local employees and of the highest calibre—you could get them reasonably inexpensively, of course—so it was a superb operation. Wright (Chair): May I just interrupt you on that? I had a lot to do with the British Council during my time. In my last five years, I was actually on the Council, and what Robert says about the wish to separate themselves—not just from the High Commission, but from the Foreign Office and from politics and diplomacy—was absolutely widespread and went right up to the chairmanship of the British Council. I am glad to say that I think, from such contacts as I have, that that feeling has gone. It might perhaps take us on later to a discussion about international development, because—I display my cards—I deplore the separation of DFID from the Diplomatic Service, because the two should be working much more closely together. I am sorry; I have gazumped you twice. Goodall: May I just pursue the British Council for a moment? When I was there, I must say that, presumably due to Robert’s efforts, the British Council did not maintain that separatist attitude and were very good. Wade-Gery: But it only lasted a month— Goodall: The head of the British Council in India was a Minister in the High Commission. I remember that one of the things in Robert’s valedictory despatch from India was to stress the importance of the educational links between India and Britain, and the fact that so many more Indians were by then going to study in the United States than were coming to Britain. I thought it was of enormous importance—the work and the educational links, which over the years we had allowed to grow weaker and which had been replaced by the plethora of scholarships available in the United States and so on. The whole existence of British culture—rather symbolised by my security guard asking about the poet Keats—was the background to a lot of what went on in India. There was a tremendous admiration for it, and the British Council maintained libraries in 11 Indian cities; I do not think that they are able to do that now. It was a much wider question than the teaching of English—I think now you can pay to learn English through the British Council and all that—but the role of the British Council, reinforced by the BBC, of keeping alive this respect for British culture and the desire to study in Britain and so on was tremendously important. One of the messages I got from Robert’s dispatch, which I tried to hammer away at all the time, was the need for us to have more scholarships available for Indians to come and study in the UK, because you see how those links repay themselves just in hard materialistic terms as those scholars become adults and occupy important positions. Wright (Chair): I promise I am not running a campaign, but David has just touched on something which I feel very strongly about, and that is that Ambassadors and High Commissioners in the future will not, as I understand it, have the benefit of their predecessor’s valedictory despatch. I must say that I would not have liked to take over the three embassies of which I was ambassador without the benefit of my predecessor’s valedictories.32 Robert, I have now stopped you several times.                                                                                                                       32

The practice of Ambassador’s valedictory despatch was discontinued in 2006.


Wade-Gery: There is nobody I would rather be stopped by. I have a couple of points, just jogging back, to emphasise the difference between then and now, which is basically what we are on at the moment. The first is to hark back to something that David said about the view at the time in the Foreign Ministry that the British Government were responsible for Sikh separatism and in due course, of course, for the assassination of Indira Gandhi. This really was very, very strong and very poisonous. There was one senior official in particular, whom David and I will both remember, but there were quite a lot of others. It really was absurd. I used to think that I had excellent relations with every department of the Indian Government except the Foreign Ministry, which after all was supposed to be looking after the diplomats. It was very extraordinary and one spent quite a lot of time evading the Foreign Ministry, because of this poisonous atmosphere. Now that has all gone, but it made a huge difference at the time and one has to remember that. Goodall: There was one particularly difficult official in the Foreign Ministry, who seemed to have a direct line to Rajiv Gandhi. But he was not alone. I remember the then Foreign Secretary saying to me, ‘You do realise you have enemies here’, and by Jove he was right. Wright (Chair): I did actually have a discussion with the gentleman concerned at one of those senior officials meetings of the Commonwealth which took place every other year and which the Permanent Under-Secretary had to attend. There was a discussion about the communiqué, which I do not believe anybody read, but it was regarded as of great importance and we spent the whole night discussing and debating a particular paragraph about general and total disarmament. I was not, of course, allowed to sign up for that, but the Indian concerned—and it was certainly the man to whom both David and Robert have referred—got increasingly cross. Finally, at about 2 o’clock in the morning, when we were all hungry and thirsty—we were a small group of about six who had been summoned by Emeka Anyaoku, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth33—the Indian lost his temper. I commend to you all: never ever lose your temper, because I won the argument within 10 minutes. We signed a communiqué, with which I was totally content, and the Indian probably—I hope—got into trouble when he got home. Wade-Gery: I have another of the then and now points, about the difference between India before Manmohan Singh’s reforms—before letting in the daylight and making India part of the economic world—which is really very extraordinary. When I arrived there was a sort of unwritten compact between the Government and the business community, whereby the Government, by having licences for everything, kept production in almost all fields to about 90 per cent of demand, which meant that manufacturers could sell anything they manufactured, however crappy—that suited the business people marvellously— and, in return, the business people of course accepted endless Government nominees on their staff. They were all grotesquely overstaffed, because they were all employing the Chief Minister’s nephew, great-nephew, grandson and so on. This compact went right the way through the Indian system, and it was appalling. It was just beginning to break up by the time I left, and by the time David left it was really on the run. That is a very big difference between then and now.                                                                                                                       33

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Commonwealth Secretary-General, 1990-2000.


Wright (Chair): May I ask the three of you whether any of you would like to comment on how much did—does—our joint membership of the Commonwealth affect the role of the High Commission? Goodall: I was going to say, to follow up something Peter said—it does not quite answer your question—that there were regular meetings of the Commonwealth Heads of Mission and there were regular meetings of the EU Heads of Mission. In my day, there was a private—what we called the Old Commonwealth—meeting, which was a meeting of the American, British, Canadian and Australian High Commissioners and Ambassadors. Wade-Geary: And New Zealand. Goodall: And New Zealand. This last group was the most useful from my point of view. I have to say it was even more useful when the American Ambassador was unavoidably prevented from attending. It was the frankest and the most open meeting, and it was really valuable to me as High Commissioner. The EU meeting was rather stately; whoever was in the chair conducted it in a Brussels fashion. But the importance of the community was growing in the eyes of the Indians, who were gradually coming to understand that the European Union was there to stay. The Commonwealth group meeting was not particularly frank and it was not particularly useful. Wade-Geary: As I recall, no Indian ever remembered that they were a member of the Commonwealth. If I mentioned it, they said, ‘Oh, yes, of course.’ Goodall: Well, they had a kind of vague folk memory that they were supposed to be a member of the Commonwealth. I would not say that it was without its value, but in practical terms it was minimal at the time. That was sad, but there it was. Wright (Chair): But they presumably remember it more today, as they have an Indian Secretary-General. Goodall: Yes, I think much more. Dr Chandrika Kaul: And the Commonwealth Games. Goodall: This is another subject, but they did have a great respect for the Queen and a great interest in the Queen, so there was that. Wade-Gery: That is part of the relationship with us; it is not part of the relationship with New Zealand or British Columbia. It never crossed their mind that they had any relationship with New Zealand or British Columbia. Goodall: No, the relationship that they had with New Zealand was because its High Commissioner in New Delhi was the legendary Ed Hillary34 — that made a big difference. Talking specifically about the role of the High Commissioner, India is a federal country, so one of things you had to do was to travel round to the                                                                                                                       34

Sir Edmund Hillary (1919-2008), New Zealand High Commissioner to India, 1985-9.


provincial capitals, each of which had its chief Minister, Government, governor and so. Therefore, you had to spend a lot of time travelling, actually meeting and trying to get to know provincial politicians, which was an extremely useful thing to do by the way, and there was a professional requirement to keep in touch with that. So you had to travel widely not just to get to know Indians, but to carry out your duties. Fowler: Chairman, may I come back to a remark you made about the aid programme? I learned a lot about India by talking to colleagues on the aid side, whether they were experts on water, farming, urban renewal or whatever it was. Later, when I went on to be High Commissioner in Dhaka, there was a very big aid section, which was in the same building while I was there. Later, it moved out, and then the FCO and the aid ministry became separate ministries and there were all kinds of divisions. I found this extraordinarily useful, and I was able to be useful to them because, when you had meetings of all the diplomatic donors, with all the Bangladeshi ministries—some big annual review or something—you were able to brief yourself from your aid colleagues and talk on their behalf or join in meetings with them. So we had a very close relationship. I found it extremely useful, and I knew much more about the country through doing that. I think some of that may have been lost. Wright (Chair): Did you, as Deputy High Commissioner, feel you had any political input into the aid programme? Fowler: I think it was more the other way around actually. I do not know what they gained; I gained an awful lot. One would to some extent discuss— Wright (Chair): Sorry—was the ODA35 still in existence or not? Fowler: Yes. Wade-Gery: My answer to your question would be yes, I certainly did— absolutely. May I make a general point? I was looking forward to this session, because I was told it was going to be them asking us questions, and none of them has been able to get a word in edgeways. I wonder if we could shut up and let them do so. Wright (Chair): That is a very good prompt for the Chairman. We have 18 minutes until the break, so I now invite questions. I have not stood up myself— none of us has—but may I ask questioners to stand up, please, so that we can hear? Kaul: I would like the panel to tell us a little more about something that was touched on towards the end of the session, in particular by Peter. You all emphasised the public relations dimension of how you saw your job—getting to know Indians and, in particular, convincing Indians of the empathy, if you like, that you felt for them. But did you have a media or communications strategy? Did you try to meet or cultivate members of the Indian journalism and media community, particularly the national press—I ask that because the 1980s was a                                                                                                                       35

Overseas Development Administration, 1979-97.


particularly difficult time for the press under Mrs Gandhi, although things did begin to change in the early 1990s, which is why Peter’s views would be particularly relevant—but also the non-Indian press, and you mentioned Mark Tully and the BBC? One of the reasons why so many people were so upset with the Panorama programme was the high esteem in which the BBC is held and has always been held. I remember my father, who was the editor of a national newspaper, telling me that when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in south India, he, sitting in New Delhi, got confirmation of it from the BBC journalists. I just wanted to draw the panel out on this very interesting relationship—if there was a relationship—between the High Commission and the media. Wright (Chair): Thank you. Who would like to make a brief reply? Wade-Gery: Indira Gandhi did not think much of the British press, but then she did not think much of the Indian press either. I think we spent a lot of time on the Indian press. It was a very, very important part of our job. Goodall: The answer is that we spent a lot of time talking to leading Indian journalists, both in Delhi and in the provincial capitals, and they were always among the people who were invited to our discussion meals. Wright (Chair): And being interviewed and broadcast. Wade-Gery: Some of the ablest people in India are the editors of the big newspapers, with tremendous breadth of vision and insights. Fowler: Let’s say that it was also a somewhat smaller world then, so you were able to know, say, a dozen of the top people—HK Dua,36 Suman Dubey37 or Ram38 when we went down to The Hindu in Madras and so on. There were people you spent a lot of time with and had some of the best conversations with—not always just straight agreements, but arguments and talking things through. Sometimes, it was difficult. When I was in New Delhi, I could not go to most of Punjab, because of the security situation. Equally, when I was in Calcutta, I could not go north because of the Naxalite situation.39 But generally you could travel, and you could also visit, say, Bihar and go to the Bihar Times and others. Before a general election, you would try to get out as much as you could to pick up the local feel about who was going to win and so on. I remember one visit to Patna, from Calcutta I think, and talking to a lot of people and getting the establishment view, and then talking to just one press guy—he did not have an appointment with me; he just sought me out as I was going through a press room—who told me what instantly struck me as a much more likely story and was in fact correct. Wright (Chair): Thank you.                                                                                                                       36

HK Dua, Editor, Hindustan Times, Editor-in-Chief, Indian Express, Editor-in-Chief, The Tribune Publications and Editorial Advisor, The Times of India. 37 Suman Dubey, Editor, Indian Express, 1986-7; Managing Editor, India Today, 1980-6. 38 Narasimhan Ram, Managing-Director, The Hindu, 1977-2003; Editor-in-Chief, 2003-12. 39 Militant communist/Maoist uprisings in various parts of India.


Professor James Manor: I was recently speaking to Sir John Thomson,40 who was also High Commissioner in the 1980s, prior to Sir Robert, and I told him that this meeting was happening—he is in not Boston, Lincolnshire, but Boston, Massachusetts—and I asked him for a good question or two. He said that I should ask you this: how sensible do you think British policy towards South Asia and, of course, India was in your time in New Delhi, and what did you try to do to amend it? Goodall: May I respond to that? It picks up something about the High Commissioner’s role that has not been mentioned, but which, in the nature of things, is very important—the High Commissioner’s relationship with Ministers at home, which is something that only the High Commissioner can really conduct. The policy was all right, but there was a curious lack of understanding, even among the most aware ministers—this was not a party thing; India was a long way away—and I found that ministers could not really grasp that the Indians thought that we were supporting Punjab terrorism. It had to be brought home to them. For instance, the fact that every time I came back either on leave or for consultations, I saw the Prime Minister was tremendously important. One of the things we were able to do was that Mrs Thatcher gave an interview to The Times of India and made a great speech about our abhorrence of terrorism, which went a long way to demonstrate that we were not on the side of terrorists. I must say that she was always very interested in India, as was the Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe.41 I am sure it was helpful to him—he is not here to speak for himself—but it was very helpful to me to be able to talk to Geoffrey and to explain exactly how the Indians felt and why they did not think that the intelligence we were giving them was sufficiently relevant, and all that kind of thing. The relationship with ministers was therefore very important. Wade-Gery: And also the relationship with the Opposition at home was very important, particularly with India. I had a Conservative Government when I was there. The Labour opposition was, on the whole, thought by the Indians to be more sympathetic to them. If one knew people like Michael Foot well, you could use them as a way of getting things across to the Indians. They would not believe such things if you said it or if a British Minister said it, but they would believe it if Michael Foot42 said it. Wright (Chair): Do you want to say anything in particular about ministerial visits to India during your time? Wade-Gery: I am happy to leave that to others, but they are a very, very good thing, and there should be more of them. That was a major and very happy part of the job. Opposition visits were also very important. Professor Anne Deighton: Thank you very much. Mr Chairman, you have worked your witnesses extremely hard this afternoon. I just have a sense that they would not want a two-dimensional, or even a one-dimensional, picture of the role of the High Commission. There was just a hint that there was a sense that Britain was primus inter pares of diplomatic missions out there. I wonder if you could perhaps elaborate on that, or tell me that this is how it was. Can you                                                                                                                       40

Sir John Thomson, High Commissioner to India, 1977–82. Sir Geoffrey Howe (Lord Howe of Aberavon), Foreign Secretary, 1983-9. 42 Michael Foot (1913-2010), Labour leader, 1980-3. 41


perhaps talk a little about the co-ordination with other diplomatic missions and other powers involved in the country, both on information gathering and intelligence gathering? Wright (Chair): On information gathering, David and Peter have talked a bit about meetings with other groups, whether Commonwealth, White Commonwealth, Old Commonwealth or EU. Do you want to say anything more? We are on a fairly delicate subject here. Goodall: I am afraid that I am not quite sure that I heard the question correctly. Are you talking about how far we— Wright (Chair): Co-ordinated with other people. Deighton: Did you see yourselves as the lead mission out there or did you, on a day-to-day basis, perhaps co-operate with other embassies more than you were allowed to describe this afternoon? Goodall: Yes, I see. I think co-operation with a small number of other embassies and Heads of Mission was very valuable. Some of one’s colleagues were extremely well informed and very good, and it was good to exchange information and assessments with them. You could have varying degrees of frankness. On the whole, I think we had the closest personal and professional relations with the High Commissioners of Australia, New Zealand and Canada, and with the German Ambassadors of the day. When I arrived, the out-going German Ambassador, an elderly man who was a Sinologist, gave us a lunch on the day we presented our credentials. One of his staff said, ‘Don’t be surprised if he welcomes you to Beijing’ and, sure enough, in his after-lunch speech, he gave us the warmest of welcomes and hoped that we had a very prosperous mission in Beijing. His successor as German Ambassador was a stalwart colleague, and so indeed was the Austrian Ambassador, but he did not have quite the same access. The French were entirely friendly, but professionally more aloof. There was a pretty good, regular exchange of views on what was going on, including on sensitive information, opinions and so on. I found that very helpful and very useful. To some extent, it was a question of personalities you got on with and personalities you did not get on with. Wright (Chair): May I make a comment that I think probably does not apply to the High Commission in India? Having served in two Arab posts, the quality of colleagues differed enormously. There were scholars or academics who had lived their life in the Middle East, understood it and spoke perfect Arabic. They were far more useful as colleagues than somebody—I have known this, I am afraid—who regards his posting as a punishment and the sooner he is posted away from it the better. I am sure that does not apply to New Delhi, but it does apply in a lot of posts. This is a blow for retirement at 60, from which we all benefit and from which perhaps you benefit too, but in some cases a lot of our European colleagues who were posted to places such as Luxembourg—I was Ambassador to Luxembourg, which was rightly regarded as a nice quiet post, which never really caused you any problems—were 65 and upwards and, frankly, should long since have retired. They were of no use. They were very agreeable colleagues,


but no use whatsoever. I am just making the rather obvious point that the calibre of one’s colleagues differs vastly. Wade-Gery: I was very fortunate because the French Government had a great drive on India when I happened to be there, and I was very fortunate in that my French colleagues were extraordinarily nice, amiable people. I got to know them extremely well, funnily enough. The Indians were rather startled by this, because they thought that we and the French were great rivals; discovering that the French Ambassador and his wife, and Sally and I used to go off camping together in Kashmir startled them a good deal. Goodall: Interestingly, you would think one would start with the Americans. In my experience in India, the Americans—they had an enormous Embassy, of course, which was full of staff and so on—were not as open with us as our European colleagues. Wright (Chair): Were your American colleagues professionals or politicians? Goodall: When I arrived there, John Gunther Dean was the American Ambassador.43 He was a very experienced career ambassador—he had been Ambassador in the Lebanon—but at the meetings we had with him he tended to tell us how we ought to be doing our job and he was inclined to lecture us. He then fell foul of the people in Washington and went. He was replaced by an excellent man who had been head of the American aid mission in Delhi, who was a scholar and was very nice, very well-informed; he knew India backwards and so on. Unfortunately, in the two years he was in India he never got confirmation from the Senate, so he was never even allowed to present his letters. It was a bizarre situation. Finally, we had a good, straight professional, who was very good. I do not know how Peter found the No. 2 American, but that is certainly how I found the No. 1. When the Wall came down and the whole East-West situation changed, we got a Soviet Ambassador—that is a story in itself—who was suddenly extremely friendly and almost disconcertingly frank in talking to me. Of course, the Russians had an immensely linguistically skilled body of experts in the embassy and, almost overnight, they became the people who came to exchange information with us, and they would talk to us and give us their views on India, and ask our views, which seemed very bizarre after the distant relations we had had with them up to then. Wade-Gery: Relations with the Americans were hampered by the fact that it is doom-fraught between America and India. They simply cannot get on with each other—never have done and, I suspect, never will do—and one had to be aware of that factor. Dr Keith Hamilton: Lord Wright, you spoke of your regret about the separation of the ODA from the FCO—that was in May 1997, with the establishment of DFID—which implies that you saw the FCO and the Diplomatic Service having some sort of influence over the ODA and development policy. I was wondering, given the strictures surrounding the use of development aid—I am thinking of ethical ones and the fact that it cannot be used for political or commercial purposes—whether it was possible to think of the ODA or of                                                                                                                       43

John Gunther Dean, US Ambassador to India, 1985-8; to Lebanon, 1978-81.


development aid in any way as an instrument of British policy in India. Was it of any real value? Wright (Chair): What I regret is the arrangement whereby first of all the Minister for the ODA, Lynda Chalker,44 was actually a Foreign Office Minister. This is not to say that the Foreign Office had a control over the ODA or that we tried all the time to influence what the ODA was doing, but there was a very close relationship between the Foreign Secretary and the Minister responsible for overseas aid. I held my morning meeting every morning, but once a week my ODA colleague—a Permanent Under-Secretary who, like me, reported to the Foreign Secretary—attended my meeting. He and I both reported together, but separately. I regret very much that, as far as I know, that relationship does not exist any longer; perhaps it does—I am 20 years retired. What I regret—this is partly a matter of words—is that, although I do not think that aid should be a tool of foreign policy, I think they should work together, because they are both trying to do the same thing. That is probably what I would say. Goodall: If the implication of the question was that development aid should be independent of foreign policy, I would like to dissent. I was unreconstructed enough to think that governmental aid was meant to be a tool of foreign policy, and certainly in relation to India. Not that I did not think that aid should be directed where it was needed—to the relief of poverty, the improvement of the infrastructure and all the other things—but I thought it was a very important tool of foreign policy and of policy towards India. It was one of the things by which Indians tended to judge whether we were serious about our interests in India or not. I have no bad conscience, I am afraid, about that. I think that separating it off, as though it was indecent to suggest that governmental aid should have any connection with foreign policy or the promotion of British interests, is just cant in my opinion. Wright (Chair): I will give you the last question. Dr Judith Rowbotham: The point that was just made that the Americans and the Indians have never got on—never have, never will—makes me wonder just how much, in your understanding of your work in India, you were influenced by the very long history of contact? There has been a brief mention of the Raj, so there is clearly a consciousness that it existed. How much was that both an asset and an obstacle to your roles as High Commissioners and Deputies? Wade-Gery: It was a tremendous asset. You had to be very tactful about it, but it was. There was no doubt that being British Ambassador in India was more fun than being any other kind of ambassador in India, if you see what I mean. Wright (Chair): You are not making any comparisons with my jobs? Wade-Gery: No, absolutely not. I think one’s colleagues tended to recognise that there was a sort of inside track with the British High Commission. Of course, it had its downside: like all close family relationships, when you quarrelled, you quarrelled really badly. When they got cross, they got much                                                                                                                       44

Lynda Chalker (Baroness Chalker of Wallasey), Minister for Overseas Development, 1989–97.


crosser with me than they ever did with anybody else, but by and large it was a tremendous advantage. Wright (Chair): Thank you all very much. I am sorry; there are probably others who would have liked to ask questions. But thank you for your patience, and particular thanks to my former colleagues for their input. We have half an hour’s break now, and we start again at 3.30 pm.



Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi Panel 2 – From Crisis to Global Player: 1990s onwards 17 November 2011, 15.30-17.00 Map Room, FCO Edited by M.D. Kandiah Chair: Andrew Patrick, Director, South Asia & Afghanistan Department, FCO. Witnesses: Sir Nicholas Fenn, GCMG: High Commissioner, 1991-96; Sir Rob Young, GCMG: High Commissioner, 1999-2003; Sir Michael Arthur, KCMG: High Commissioner, 2003-07. Introductory remarks: The Rt Hon Lord Howell of Guildford, PC: Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Participants from the floor: Mrs Penny Brook: Lead Curator India Office Records, British Library Darlena David: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor Anne Deighton: Professor of European International Politics, Wolfson College, Oxford Dr Chandrika Kaul: Lecturer in Modern History, University of St Andrews Gareth Roberts: India Team, FCO Dr Judith Rowbotham: Reader in History and Law, Nottingham Trent University Sir Robert Wade-Gery: KCMG, KCVO: High Commissioner, 1982-87 Marc Wadsworth: MA student, King’s College London


Andrew Patrick (Chair): May I welcome everyone to the second session of the witness seminar? The rules are the same as in the first session—we are very much on the record; the seminar is being recorded and a transcript will be made. Like last time, we are going to start with a panel discussion, and we will then move to questions from the audience. I am pleased that Lord Howell is here to launch this session. He is a Foreign Office Minister who specialises mainly in Commonwealth matters, and he obviously has a long history of involvement with India. Lord Howell, perhaps you will say a few words of introduction. Lord Howell of Guildford: Thank you very much. I feel peculiarly ill-suited to make this introduction, because the room is full of people who are vastly more experienced than me. My visits to the High Commission in Delhi have been infrequent; I was trying to work this out as I walked along the corridor, and I think I have been there six times over—I am afraid—a vast number of years. The closest connection I have is through my wife, who before we were married visited Sir Paul Gore-Booth45—not Sir David46; this is going back a long way—in the High Commission. The product of that meeting was a charming picture of her sitting with Mr Nehru in the garden—I keep it on the wall as I am rather proud of it and it forms some connection with the distant past. What are my general ruminations on the role of Embassies and High Commissions nowadays, and specifically the one we are looking at? Well, I draw pleasure from the fact that so many pundits and experts forecast that in the age of the internet, e-mail and global communications, Embassies would become less important. In fact, the opposite has happened and they are much more important. The more electronic globalised information that exists, the more essential it is to have very, very well informed networks established in the great cities and countries of the world—indeed, in all countries, small and large, particularly bearing in mind that small countries can turn into large problems. All that has defied a great deal of futurology, which in general tends to be disproved. I will give one more anecdote as a general thought before getting a little more specific. When I was a very young minister, eager to maintain my status and pomposity, I visited a European capital—I will not specify which one—and stayed at a very grand European embassy with a very grand ambassador and his equally grand wife. After staying for breakfast and, I thought, leaving by the bedside a reasonable tip in the local currency for the staff, I proceeded to an important meeting. In the middle of that meeting, to my intense embarrassment there was a loud whisper from my private secretary saying, ‘Lady so-and-so has complained that you didn’t leave enough for the servants.’ I am talking about a different age—40 or 50 years ago. Let us fast forward to today and the age of soft power and networking, and to the essential role of promotional and reputational soft-power instruments in every form. The embassy obviously assumes a new significance and importance. The network is the thing, and without that, the best e-grams and best assessments of local trends are useless. That is a central point. Now let us turn to the fascinating evolution that is taking place in the Commonwealth system which has right at its centre, at least in demographic terms and possibly in power terms, the new jewel in the Commonwealth—just as it was the jewel in the Crown—the giant awakening: India. The High                                                                                                                       45 46

Sir Paul Gore-Booth (Lord Gore-Booth, 1909–84), High Commissioner to India, 1960–5. Sir David Gore-Booth (1943–2004), High Commissioner to India, 1996–8.


Commissioners who are in this room must feel that they have been on a fascinating journey. After independence, in the 1940s and 1950s, and the issues we discussed this morning of the 1960s and 1970s, there were all the hang-ups and nuances of the post-imperial period. There was the marvellous ambiguity of attitude held by some of one’s closest friends in India. On the one hand they were extremely proud to get rid of the Brits, but on the other hand they wanted them back almost immediately to help—a state of mind that I totally understood and rather enjoyed. Then came the period we are now in with the beginnings of globalisation, and the mood of moving from ex-colonial, eximperial India, to India—a slightly awkward and not terribly friendly country in many ways and aspects of policy. That is the period you have dealt with of nonalignment and so on. Then came another period, and if I were the High Commissioner sitting in India, I would have begun to think that we needed to re-cast our stance somewhat as the supportive friend. Now, the next phase is just beginning, although I am not sure that it has permeated every pore and labyrinth of our international role in foreign policy, where suddenly the role is reversed. These are the bosses; these are the people with the money. Our Embassies and High Commissions are respectful outposts of this island in our interests, and some of those interests mean that far from it being them going cap in hand and talking about aid, it is the other way round. All the Sovereign wealth and accumulation of wealth, all the dynamism and a lot of the highest new technology—forget the old picture of, ‘We’ll produce the technology and they’ll produce the commodities’ because it is now the other way round—comes from the Commonwealth network and non-Commonwealth countries, the so-called ‘emerging economies.’ The other day someone—I think it was Bob Zoellick47—remarked that the emerging economies hate being called emerging economies. They really hate it, but yet we continue to use that term in our phraseology and we should probably stop. The world does not look like that from a so-called emerging economy. I can think of many places in this country where there are definitely signs of a need for things to emerge from their present state. We must watch our terminology, and our embassies and High Commissions have to watch their positioning and attitude as they build wonderful networks round the town, make friendships and engineer connections, socialise and intellectualise, dine with and organise at all kind of civil society levels the communities in which they have been placed. They need to maintain and promote our reputation so that it is adequate and strong, and keep the policy makers in London agile and well warned in advanced about what is going to happen next. That is very difficult because the world is full of black swans; something is going to happen next week that no one forecast. Last year we had the so-called Arab Spring—I call it the Arab uprising— which no one forecast. I did not see it in any e-grams in my first year in this office, and there was no sign of it until it happened. There is something wrong there; perhaps Embassies and High Commissions not networking quite enough, I don’t know. At the heart of it all is India in the new Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a gigantic system of 2 billion people forming a huge new lattice pattern of trade and investment that the media have hardly become aware of. They are still writing about Africa as down, when Africa is now up. That completely transforms the whole atmosphere inside the Commonwealth network. These are very new developments to which High Commissioners must                                                                                                                       47

Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, 2007—.


adjust, and I have no doubt that our distinguished colleagues in Delhi are facing these new conditions and attitudes with brio. In fact, I know they are because I went to visit them the other day and Delhi is a new world in which our language and attitudes have to change. I have said enough; thank you very much. Patrick (Chair): Minister, I know that you need to leave before the end of the session, so we will rearrange the seating and perhaps you would like to participate from the front row. Howell: I would like to stay long enough to hear someone say that I am talking rubbish. Patrick (Chair): Thank you, Lord Howell. That was an excellent introduction to the second session. I will let the three High Commissioners briefly introduce themselves for the purposes of the recording, and we will then move on to talk about how in this tremendous period of change for India, Britain’s relationship with it and the role of the Embassy also changed. Perhaps you could start, Nick, by telling us how you became involved with India. Sir Nicholas Fenn: My name is Nick Fenn and I think I am the luckiest High Commissioner in the room. I had the good fortune to be in India between 1991 and 1996 when, as I hope I shall be allowed to say in a moment, all sorts of things changed in India, and all sorts of things became possible that had not previously been possible in terms of Indo-British relationships. Specifically, that included getting out from under the shadow of the Raj and into a constructive economic partnership. That was not our doing; it was the Indian economic crisis of 1991. I went to India because I was sent there like the rest of us. Douglas Hurd48 said, ‘I have two words of instruction for you, Nick: understand India.’ That was an awesome task that I took to be a licence to travel relentlessly, and I understand the regret about that, which Peter Fowler expressed this morning. I claim to be one of the only persons in the world to have made a public speech in the English language in every one of India’s States. I say that because an Indian politician wouldn’t bother—he would do his own state and Delhi— and for some strange reason, other diplomats didn’t bother. I did, however, and we loved it. Thank you. Sir Rob Young: I am Sir Rob Young. When I arrived in Delhi in January 1999, there had been about a year of considerable frostiness in our relationship. That was partly because of Robin Cook’s49 comments on Kashmir during the State Visit in 1997, but above all because of what the Indians regarded as a rather over-strenuous British reaction to their nuclear tests in 1998. I had the shortterm task of trying to warm things up, as well as the longer-term task of building on what Sir Nicholas has just been talking about, and trying to forge a relationship with a burgeoning India that was relevant to and worthy of the twenty-first century. Sir Michael Arthur: I am Michael Arthur and I took over from Rob in 2003. I was in India from 2003 to 2007, exactly at the time that the new relationship                                                                                                                       48 49

Douglas Hurd (Lord Hurd of Westwell), Foreign Secretary, 1989-95. Robin Cook (1946-2005), Foreign Secretary, 1997-2001.


was beginning to emerge, and it was my task to take it forward. I would like to give one illustrative example of that changing India. I was new to India, like most of us when we first went, and I was fortunate enough to have a couple of months to prepare. I did a lot visiting businesses and such things, but I also wanted to see what life in India was like from the bottom up. As you heard from the first panel, it is a very top-down society. I fixed up a programme to go round villages and stay with people, and I remember one day going to see Narayana Murthy50 in Infosys in its twenty-second-century headquarters in Bangalore, and then that night sleeping on the floor of a Dalit’s51 hut in upper Madhya Pradesh. That showed me the contrasts in India, which I am still stunned by, even now. Patrick (Chair): Thank you. I am Andrew Patrick and I am the Director currently responsible for South Asia in the Foreign Office. We have already mentioned the tremendous changes that have taken place, launched in part in 1991 by the economic reforms, and we have also heard about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the changes that that made in terms of India’s external environment. The rise of China is another factor over those years. I thought I would ask each of you to say how the role of the British High Commission, and your role, changed over that period. Perhaps we will go to you first, Nick. Fenn: When I arrived I got the impression that, at least in many Indian eyes, the relationship still had a lot of ‘Raj’ about it, and nostalgia and resentment is about as bad a basis for a bilateral relationship as one can imagine. On the Indian side there was still residual anti-colonial sentiment, and an almost infinite capacity to blame Britain for all the ills of India. On the British side, notions about India that were formed in other times had not been adequately updated. Of course, we always told each other that we were friends. We had habits of thought and language; we had parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. I learned to call it, ‘Culture, Cricket and the Commonwealth.’ But the reality was NATO52 and the Non-Aligned Movement.53 India was a formal ally of the Soviet Union, and the bilateral relationship was, quite frankly, pretty scratchy. Then three things happened, one of which was stressed this morning. First, the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War left India cut adrift from her moorings and deeply uneasy in the presence of a single superpower. She tentatively identified the European Union as a sort of counterbalance to the United States, and discovered that we were the most intelligible member of the EU and that she would do well to create a relationship with us. Secondly, there was the Indian economic crisis that led to Indian economic reform and made India suddenly more interesting to Britain. And                                                                                                                       50

NR Narayana Murthy, one of founders in 1981 of Infosys, an Indian computer software company. Previously one of the various names used for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (the ‘untouchables’), the word ‘Dalit’ is not now officially used in India. 52 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed in 1949 on the basis of the Treaty of Brussels (1948) by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France (withdrew 1965; re-joined 2009), Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Greece and Turkey joined in 1952, the Federal Republic of Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982, and the united Germany in 1990. Since then the following have joined: Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia. 53 The Non-Aligned Movement was founded in 1961 by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and four other leaders. 51


thirdly, British economic recovery within the EU made Britain more interesting to India. When I got there in 1991, it seemed as if there were the seeds of something new. The catalyst was the economic crisis of 1991. The discreet help of the Bank of England, which David referred to, was never publicly mentioned but was privately appreciated. There was also the advent of Narasimha Rao54 as Prime Minister—the world’s most implausible revolutionary. He had the guts to acknowledge that something fundamental had happened in India, and that it needed to change. As he told a visiting British minister at the time, ‘You don’t shilly-shally with disaster.’ He was supported by my hero, Dr Manmohan Singh, who was the Finance Minister. 55 My early first call on him went something like this: ‘Minister, I’ve been reading some of your published works.’ ‘High Commissioner, you are accusing me of being a socialist.’ ‘Minister, the word didn’t pass my lips.’ ‘I’ll tell you, High Commissioner, I was a socialist. I am a socialist. Anyone with responsibility for a country like India would have to be a socialist. But, High Commissioner, it doesn’t work.’ I wanted to hug him. Douglas Hurd came to India in January 1992 to see whether the new India was fact or fiction. He decided, and said at a press conference, that our instincts and interests began to run together. That was not, I think, initially quite true— yet—but it perhaps set objectives for the new High Commissioner: out from under the rancour of the post-imperial relationship, and into a mutually profitable economic partnership, within which—surprise, surprise—discussion of quite sensitive matters became not difficult and exceptional but normal. Robert and David were, I think, summoned to the South Block (the Foreign Ministry)56 to be spanked. I was summoned to be consulted. That is different and I was lucky—that is why I called myself the luckiest High Commissioner. Kashmir, Punjab, nuclear weapons and human rights became things that we could talk about, whereas before they had been somewhat taboo. Perhaps you would like me to stop there. I could go on for another couple of minutes and talk about other things stemming from that if you wanted me to. Patrick (Chair): Please carry on. Fenn: The opportunity depended, of course, on the success of Indian economic reform to which there were, as I am sure everybody in this room knows, formidable obstacles. The success was due to the courage of Rao and Manmohan Singh, the innate entrepreneurial spirit of India, the intellectual tenacity of a few senior civil servants; but, above all, the gravity of the crisis and the fact that there simply was no viable alternative. Good progress was made in my time, and perhaps in a few minutes we will be told about further progress since. Even now there is still progress to be made, but 1991 was the watershed. Indians began to claim that they had an ideological consensus in favour of economic reform. Chancellor Kenneth Clarke57 came to India in 1995 to pursue that elusive consensus. He talked to the Congress Government in the centre, the BJP Government in Rajasthan, the communist Government in West Bengal, the Shiv Sena Government in Maharashtra and the Janata Dal Government in Karnataka. All the legendary diversity of India was spread out                                                                                                                       54

PV Narasimha Rao (1921-2004), Prime Minister of India, 1991-6. Manmohan Singh, Minister of Finance, 1991-6. 56 The South Block is a building that is used to house parts of the Indian Ministry for External Affairs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Defence. 57 Kenneth Clarke, Chancellor of the Exchequer, 1993-7. 55


before him, and he concluded that there was no such thing as an ideological consensus, but that there was something much more important—an economic imperative. Reform had become overwhelmingly in India’s national interest, and therefore it was pursued. Meanwhile, we had been pursuing the structured dialogue that Hurd had instituted when he came in 1992. There was a partnership in the defence of democracy against terrorist attack, an extradition treaty, a confiscation of assets agreement, an agreement in the field of environment and forestry, and a defence consultative group to promote mutual understanding and interaction between our armed forces to enhance co-operation on defence procurement, equipment and research—Defence? With the Indians! The British Council continued its distinguished work. The Development Co-operation Office was opened in Delhi and moved out of the High Commission—the subject we were discussing earlier—and there were agreements on research, industrial development and technology transfer. The heart of the matter, however, was the Indo-British Partnership initiative, set up by the two Prime Ministers, John Major58 and Narasimha Rao, when Major was India’s chief guest on Republic Day in 1993—in itself, an astonishment together with the 17 tycoons whom Major brought with him.59 A programme was established to enhance trade, investment and technology transfer, and to spread the gospel to small and medium-sized enterprises. Just before I left India, in a speech in Bombay John Major said the sentence that I think summed up what I had been paid to try to do: ‘We have banished the ghosts of an Empire that nobody mourns, rejecting both nostalgia and resentment, and building instead a modern partnership between sovereign democracies.’60 That was what I’d been paid for over the previous five years. The seal would have been set on that by the visit of Her Majesty the Queen on the fiftieth anniversary in 1997, but that was torpedoed by the late Robin Cook who attacked India from Islamabad. That, as they say, is another story, and somebody else’s story. Patrick (Chair): I think we can neatly pick up that story with the man who, to some extent, addressed the consequences. Young: May I say a few words following on from what Nicholas has said about the economic relationship? From my perspective, it was a tribute to what had been achieved in the 1990s that, by the time I got there, the relationship was already moving towards something that could legitimately be classified as modern. Lord Howell, you summed up clearly what has changed about diplomacy with India, and what have remained the main permanent tasks in that diplomacy. Those were becoming a great deal clearer by the end of the 1990s. Britain had grasped an opportunity—principally, primarily and initially an economic opportunity—and it had converted that into both an economic and a political win. It was evidence of the growing solidity of our relationship that the frostiness of 1998, about which I spoke at the beginning of the session, was                                                                                                                       58

Sir John Major, Prime Minister, 1990-7. Link to the text of Major’s joint press conference with the Director General of the CBI, Howard Davies, held in New Delhi on Monday 25 January 1993 60 Also see Sir Nicholas Fenn’s interview deposited at the British Diplomatic Oral History Programme, Churchill Archive Centre, Cambridge:, p.62. Text of Major’s speech to the Businessmen’s Dinner in Bombay on Wednesday 27 January 1993: 59


dissipated relatively quickly in 1999. British ministers came out in droves; most were focused and successful and we were able to push forward on a number of practical fronts. I was conscious at that point that there were more opportunities than we could possibly respond to adequately with the resources at our disposal. Perhaps I will therefore deal with an issue that came up in the first session and preoccupied me. It concerned how to optimise the resources available to HMG as a whole in India. The High Commissioner represents the British Government as a whole—all British Government agencies—and therefore has a responsibility to try to ensure that the resources available, which are never enough, are used to optimal collective advantage. I set up a series of themed coordinating committees with DFID and the British Council—the first, I recall, was on human rights—to try to ensure that the three main arms of the British effort in India, based in Delhi, were pushing in the same direction and not contradicting or duplicating each other. I hope that that helped to a degree. Shall I go on to talk about terrorism, or shall we leave that for a bit? Patrick (Chair): We will come on to terrorism in a minute. Perhaps you could say something about the defence relationship, given what was said earlier. Young: It is always ironic to find Foreign Secretaries discovering that Embassies and High Commissions ought to be about trade and investment promotion— some of us have been familiar with that as an aspect of our work since the 1960s, and it is always welcome to re-emphasise the point. By the time I got to Delhi, about 50 per cent of my work was in trade promotion and investment— inward investment and promotion into the UK—in one form or other. There were two issues. One was how best to help the big boys if they needed it, although some of them did not and got on quite happily. BAE had been trying to sell Hawks61 to India since 1985. It succeeded with a bit of help from the High Commission in 2003, and the deal was signed in 2004 when Michael took over. There was a case where even one of our biggest manufacturing businesses—a defence business at that—still needed British Government assistance. I lost count of the number of times that I talked to the Defence Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and others about what had happened to the file—it was a labyrinthine business; I don’t want to go in detail, but eventually it was sorted out. I am reminded of a short anecdote. Clare Short62 visited India on one occasion, and talked to the then Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh,63 about the question of British aid to state Governments. Should it go through Delhi, or could we give it directly? I thought that I had adequately primed the Ministry of Finance about that before the meeting. Clare Short delivered her little piece. There was a pause, and Jaswant Singh said in his gravelly voice, ‘Well, Madam Minister, I have to tell you that I am informed that the matter is in hand—which in India that means that the file has been found.’ Not a great deal of progress was made very rapidly on that one. As far as defence relations more broadly were concerned, from the 1990s onwards western countries had a real opportunity for the first time to try and break the near-total Russian—previously Soviet—monopoly on arms deliveries. Britain had managed to sell some kit in the past, including Jaguar64 and some                                                                                                                       61

Hawk is a British single-engine, advanced jet trainer aircraft, brought into production in the mid-1970s and currently still in production. 62 Clare Short, Secretary of State for International Development, 1997–2003. 63 Jaswant Singh, Minister of Finance, 2002-4. 64 The Anglo-French Jaguar is a ground attack jet aircraft.


helicopters, although partly because of misunderstandings, poor maintenance and various other things, those projects were not always entirely successful and there were endless arguments over maintenance and spares. I mentioned Hawk, which was really a litmus test of whether we could break through with a major arms sale. The big prize was local manufacture, which was not achieved in my time because India did not want to raise the FDI65 ceiling sufficiently to allow it to be financially worthwhile for foreign firms to invest. That was the big prize and one area in which the High Commission was pushing for change. As a more general point, one of the inhibiting factors in our efforts to promote trade throughout the period was the relative slowness of economic reform. Yes, it had happened in the 1990s, and continued to happen, but it was not happening fast enough. A lot of British firms lost interest in India because they couldn’t get into the country quickly enough; there were bureaucratic delays as well as policy issues to overcome. One area where I think we made a difference was in insurance where three or four British firms were poised for quite a long time to go in with Indian partners. We eventually got the FDI ceiling increased, and they took off and became leaders in India very quickly. Arthur: I thought I was going to say that there had been a change in my period because we got to talking about economics in a big way. Nick, I could not have agreed more with your excellent presentation of that sea change, and it is interesting that you catalogue that clearly from those reforms in 1991 and 1992. Again in the early 2000s, however, we saw that same sense of enthusiasm for a new partnership that was economic. That was because—this is important—there was no straight-line linear development from those reforms in 1991 and 1992 through to the present day. There was quite a big blip in the second half of the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s, which led us to re-engage with ministers in the Government of the day, just as enthusiastically as you heard before. I will not repeat what Nick and Rob said about that. We will talk later about terrorism in Pakistan. In the intervening period, Rob had a lot of problems handling that issue—which we will come back to—which had passed largely by the time I arrived. Let us get back to that new modern relationship based on things other than traditional strategic issues. To elaborate, beyond the straight commercial point, our trade with India was—and still is—pretty bad, despite doubling over the last year. That is impressive, but it started from a very low base. During that period, we tried to broaden the relationship to be more societal, and one example of that was the setting up of UKIERI,66 which was a joint approach to get universities, schools and students to look at education as a main element in the bilateral relationship. That has taken off and, as Lord Howell was saying earlier, is one sign of that broadened relationship. During my period we also did a lot of work on investment. Although trade did not go as fast as we would have liked, investment did, in both directions—Britain is obviously one of the major investors into India. I was in India at the period when major Indian players were starting to go global, and at that time the place to start going global was the London Stock Exchange, or indeed Britain. Tata investment in Corus and Jaguar and so on all started in the first decade of this century. I have one other comment to add to those of my colleagues in the                                                                                                                       65 66

Foreign Direct Investment. UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI):


previous discussion. New diplomatic techniques link to old diplomatic techniques. As we heard in the first session, the British Council, and the BBC were—and still are—hugely important for our relationship, as was the relationship with DFID. We worked closely with DFID during my period. It was not physically in the same place, but we shared our analysis of what and how things should be done. New technologies meant that we had to think about how we reached one billion people beyond the normal ways that we had used for five centuries. A lot of exciting stuff was going on in the High Commission with the Indians looking at new communications techniques and technologies. Rob mentioned the Hawk deal taking many years to sign, but as always in India, there were problems up to the very last minute and beyond. The Hawk deal was finally concluded in our collective garden, on my mobile phone at about 11 o’clock on a Saturday night, in a three-way conversation between the British Aerospace man, the chief Indian negotiator and me—mobile phones have a good role to play in modern diplomacy. There is one other factor that nobody has mentioned yet and about which I was very conscious in my time. Nick was saying that we had moved to a post-colonial, more modern relationship, but if only that were totally true. It is true in the way that Ministers saw India, but even to this day it is not yet sufficiently true in the way that the great British public and serious players beyond the Government see India, and quite a lot of my time was spent trying to get Britain to wake up to this fantastic, modern emerging giant. I did a lot of work back here, not only with Ministers and politicians, but beyond that with business people as well. Finally, this country has a fantastic asset that has not yet been mentioned—its diaspora. Some 2 per cent of our population are British citizens of Indian origin and they are worth approximately 5 per cent of our economy. They provide a link that does not exist for any other country, which every British High Commissioner now has to factor into how they handle that relationship. Fenn: Except Ireland. Arthur: I am sorry. There speaks a former Ambassador to Ireland. 67 Patrick (Chair): Before we move off that topic, perhaps we can explain a little more how changes in technology affected your relationship with London. We are now getting into the age of instant communication, reliable telephone calls and direct regular conversations with Ministers and their opposite numbers in India. How did that affect the way you did business, and your role as a High Commissioner? Fenn: In my day it simply began by multiplying the number of ministerial visits. Thinking still in fairly old terms, ministers suddenly wanted to come to India, and I found myself filtering them because we and the Indians could not cope with too many British ministers at once. In my last year, we had 36 official visitors: 16 ministers, four Royals, 12 major business delegations, including chairmen or CEOs of major British companies, the Baroness Thatcher, the Baroness Boothroyd,68 the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury.69 The High Commission was pretty heavily engaged in what I might                                                                                                                       67

Sir Nicholas Fenn, UK Ambassador to the Republic of Ireland, 1986-91. Baroness Boothroyd, Labour MP for West Bromwich and West Bromwich West, 1973-2000; Speaker of the House of Commons, 1992-2000. 69 George Carey (Lord Carey of Clifton), Archbishop of Canterbury, 1991-2002. 68


call old-style communication. Besides that, as you rightly say—I am sure that my younger and more vigorous colleagues would be better able to talk about this—there is the new way, although to be honest I do not recognise the difference. They are complementary. If Ministers from different Governments can talk to each other on Skype, that is a plus provided that the High Commissions or Embassies of both parties know what is going on, so that when they are not talking on Skype, business can be carried forward. Otherwise, it is simply a flash in the pan; a one-off thing that could be terrific but may not come properly to fruition. Somebody once said that the great advantage of an ambassador is that he is there—that is what he is for. Young: I agree entirely with what Nicholas has said. Perhaps this was partly my fault, but the new technologies did not make the profound impact that they no doubt did under my illustrious successor in terms of contact between the British and Indian Governments. There were odd telephone calls, but most of the time the High Commission acted as intermediary between the two Governments. Sometimes, that was without instructions, and in a way it was a tribute to the way Whitehall thought the High Commission was functioning that we were often left on our own to get on with things. I found that the more focused ministerial visits became, and the more one had thought about the objectives beforehand and pinned Ministers down to agreeing with and sticking to them, the more effective and productive those visits were. There was nothing worse than a Minister coming out simply because he wanted to visit India, with no real idea of what he wanted to achieve, and I was pretty firm about trying to agree clear sets of objectives in advance. India is vast and complicated, and we deliberately used to take visitors outside Delhi to as many different places as their programmes would allow. We found that they were more than ready to rely on the High Commission for briefings and inside knowledge, and however often they had been to India previously, there was more diffidence about pronouncing on what was happening in Uttar Pradesh or Kerala than there might have been about pronouncing on what was happening in Frankfurt or Milan. In other words, the distance factor continued to help the High Commission maintain its role as the real source of knowledge and understanding—I hope—about India for its visitors. Arthur: I have two points to add to that. First, on new technologies and communication, I meant communication with India rather than with the Indian Government. That is more in the sense of the question about the press and so on, and how one reaches a huge audience. In my day, the traditional relationship between Governments still flowed largely through us in the High Commission. That will begin to change. As more and more direct contacts take place between policy makers in the two capitals—that can be only welcome because they can move events forward—a new role for an Embassy or High Commission is that of getting the single London person to recognise that their one interlocutor in Delhi does not necessarily speak for the whole of India. India is so complex and diverse that we as a Government and a country need to understand all those different elements that come together to give the position that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh70 is now taking. Unless we understand that through the High Commission, we probably will not understand it at all.                                                                                                                       70

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister since 2004.


My subsequent job was in Germany. It is a smaller country but a similar sort of diversity applies. People in London talk to Berlin the entire time, but they never go and talk to the chief ministerial equivalent in Stuttgart or Munich. That is a vital function that a modern Embassy can play, both in projecting and assessing. Young: That is all the more important in India since it has had coalition government at the centre and the local regional state parties have played such a big role in sustaining that. Arthur: Absolutely. Patrick (Chair): There are about 20 minutes before we move on to the questions, and I thought we might look at the role of the High Commission and UK-India relations in times of crisis. I guess that the best example of that is the period directly after the attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistani-based terrorists in 2002. You were High Commissioner, Rob, and there was a huge about of international and UK diplomacy. Would you like to say something about that and the general question about the relationship with Pakistan? Young: I will go back a little further. The relationship with the United States— not really our business this afternoon but important nonetheless—changed during the 1990s. It is important to recall that at the time of the crisis between India and Pakistan, which stemmed from the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001, America had already played a considerable role in defusing an India-Pakistan crisis over the Pakistani occupation of the Kargil Heights in 1999. The relationship between India and Pakistan on the issue of terrorism had changed, although the Indians remained sceptical about whether the Americans would be willing to confront Musharraf71 over support for cross-border terrorism. As you know, the attack on the Indian Parliament led to the Indian army being mobilised on a scale that had not been seen since the Indo-Chinese war of 1962. At the time, however, there was practically no dialogue between the Indian and Pakistan Governments. It had been patchy since the Agra Summit and there were no back channels in regular use. India needed third-party help, therefore, despite all the ideological worries that it had held in the past about such help over Kashmir. That became all the more evident when India was seen not to have an exit strategy from its military mobilisation. Straight after the attack on the Parliament, the UK managed to insert itself with the US as an interlocutor with Pakistan. I think that was the first time that India had accepted such a role for the UK since independence. The Americans, of course, carried the most clout, but I think that the Indians were glad to have a second opinion on the issue, and a second voice speaking in Islamabad. I found myself spending most of my time between December 2001 and May-June 2002 working on this issue and in almost daily contact with the Indian National Security Adviser,72 the Ministers for Defence73 and for Foreign Affairs74 and so on. There were also visits from the Prime Minister, Jack Straw the Foreign Secretary75, David Manning76 the No. 10 Private Secretary dealing with                                                                                                                       71

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistani leader (in various capacities), 1999-2008. Brajesh Mishra, National Security Advisor, 1998-2004. 73 George Fernandes, Minister for Defence, 2001-4. 74 Jaswant Singh, Minister for External Affairs, 1998-2002. 75 Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary, 2001-6. 72


international affairs, and so on. The situation was frightening because every war-fighting scenario that we could construct suggested a rapid escalation to nuclear level. As the tension mounted, especially from mid-May onwards, the British Government decided, on the recommendation of the High Commission, that British citizens should be evacuated. The Americans had already evacuated their staff and citizens. I should add that such was the co-ordination between ourselves and the Americans, that the two missions held joint morning meetings of senior staff every morning for several weeks during April, May and early June. There was a fundamental problem in India due to the lack of understanding about the impact of nuclear war. We in Europe had lived with the threat for 40 years, but India thought of nuclear war as being like the kind of war that they had had before with Pakistan, except with bigger bombs. We arranged for Sir Michael Quinlan77 to come out and talk to members of the Government and various other elites and think-tanks, and we tried to do what we could to explain indirectly to the public—not directly from the High Commission—about the nature and extent of nuclear devastation. The only way to get the Indians off the hook was to extract undertakings from Pakistan on cross-border terrorism. That was enough to de-escalate the problem, although it did not last very long. I think the crisis showed that the UK could play a helpful role in averting a crisis of such magnitude, and indeed there was an exercise in the Foreign Office afterwards to try and calculate how much the British Government had saved by avoiding nuclear war on the subcontinent. Patrick (Chair): It was in our argument with the Treasury I think. Young: Indeed it was, yes, to show how important British diplomacy was and that the Foreign Office budget should not suffer in any way. The crisis also showed that traditional deterrence theory does not really work in South Asia. Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weapons neutralised India’s traditional conventional superiority, and left it free to pursue relatively low-intensity conflicts. When it started, therefore, the outcome of the crisis was unforeseen. I like to think that Britain and the High Commission played a constructive and helpful role in averting what would have been an absolute catastrophe for the sub-continent for decades to come. Patrick (Chair): On the role of diplomacy in periods of crisis—you each had various crises during your time, are there any lessons from that that it would be useful to share? Fenn: Briefly, and on a small scale compared with Rob’s grand crisis, there was the Kashmir kidnap of 1995 when, as some of you will remember, 10 people were kidnapped by Pakistani-encouraged militants in Kashmir. They were trekking there. The four wives / girlfriends were quickly released and stayed in the British High Commission for the following nine months. The Norwegian was summarily executed, and his head left on the path where it would be found. One of the Americans escaped and that left two Brits, one American and one German—ex-East German—in detention. The first thing that came of that was a sudden closeness between the four missions in Delhi and the Indian authorities.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 76 77

Sir David Manning, Foreign Policy Adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair, 2001-3. Sir Michael Quinlan (1930–2009), Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence, 1988-92.


We could not operate without them, and they could not operate without us. We were in daily contact and consultation about how to proceed. Secondly, Rob, you spoke about how you and the Americans worked together every morning, and in this case the four Embassies—including the Norwegian Embassy, which insisted on being part of it—met every morning for nine months in Delhi, and we subordinated other objectives of our missions to this one, over months. These people had trekked against the advice of their respective consulates in a dangerous place. Why do adults behave so irresponsibly, and what did that cost the British taxpayer? I have no idea. I had to establish a dangerous office in Srinagar, where we were in constant contact with the militants. It was a new kind of diplomacy. Because we would not pay, of course—we can go into that if you like—we were left with diplomacy and political pressure. The way that colleague Embassies around the world were mobilised to put pressure on Pakistan as a way of putting pressure on those responsible, was beyond praise. Alas it failed, and I was probably the last person to speak to the militant leader. In the end, I had to say that the British Government would not pay, and I think the hostages were executed the next day. My last great failure. Patrick (Chair): That is a sad note. Michael. Arthur: I will add two quick points to that. First, the issue of travel advice continues to be sensitive vis-à-vis the Indian Government, partly because they see Britain as the weather-vane for the European Union as a whole. The public signalling about what may be going on, which flows from the travel advice that we give our citizens, irritates the Indian Government. That is a constant modern version of that security issue. Secondly, the Mumbai bombings were just after my time, but even before then, and since, there was a much closer dialogue between our specialist services in those areas than there has been in living memory. That is another aspect of a mature and modern twenty-first century relationship. Patrick (Chair): We have not talked much about the consular role, except with regard to kidnaps, and I wonder whether we could say a little more about that. In particular, there was an evolution in the British approach to forced marriage, which became something that the British Government were keen to address. To what extent did any of you need to become engaged in that process? Arthur: We had a little bit of that. We had a specially-trained team that from time to time would go up into the Punjab—although it was not just the Punjab—and have to rescue what were mostly British brides, although occasionally a British man. When I compared notes with my colleague in Islamabad, however, he had that problem 10-fold. The real problem of forced marriages is really in Pakistan rather than India. Young: I would like to reinforce the point about the nature of consular cases, and the way that they can take up a vast amount of time. One was worried for the substance, and for the possible explosion back home on the front pages of the tabloid press if things went wrong, or if we were thought to be not doing our stuff and so forth. I was regularly involved in the case of a man called Peter Bleach, who had been imprisoned for allegedly flying arms into north-east


India.78 He was eventually released—in your time I think, Michael—but I remember spending a lot of time on that case, in both Calcutta and Delhi. Arthur: That is an important point. Clearly, one of the main things we are there to do is protect British citizens. The costs, however, in time and resources, for ever smaller missions overseas is something that Ministers have to think about. It is difficult; of course one has to help, but at what cost? Fenn: We did not have to deal with forced marriage in my time, but it has not yet been mentioned that in India, beside the three Deputy High Commissions and the trade promotion office in Bangalore, there are of course consular correspondents all over the country. They are usually British nationals, and are available to help if someone gets into trouble. They are a huge help because they live there; they are on the spot. A tiny anecdote: Ireland has a tiny embassy in Delhi—we came from Ireland before we went to India—and an Irish friend of ours was desperate because her daughter had gone to India, disappeared into an ashram and not been heard of for six months. Their Embassy could not do anything about it. The lady in Dublin rang my wife in India who rang our consular correspondent, who found the girl who was then on the phone to Dublin in two hours—a family reassured at no cost to the taxpayer. Arthur: I was going to make one point, but I will make two. Round the world we have a lot of honorary consuls. They are a fantastic asset but they are not the same as a consular correspondent. In India, Ireland’s honorary consul in Bangalore was, and may still be, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who set up, ran and floated one of India’s most successful biochemical companies.79 She had fantastic success. She bats for Ireland from Bangalore. We do not have such a network in India. But in my subsequent job in Germany we have a series of top bankers— sorry, that is a dirty word nowadays—top players in the economy who are working for Britain as honorary consuls. It is a fantastic asset for us overseas. My main point was that across India we have probably the most complex HMG network in the world. When I was there, we had just over 1,000 employees of HMG, if you counted DFID, the British Council and everybody else, together with all the teachers across India. That is a sophisticated matrix and, as you heard earlier, it requires the High Commissioner to be out there all the time seeing people and running a large organisation. It should be that way, but you have to factor that into how you manage a modern organisation. Patrick (Chair): We will start the questions, because I would like to give each of the speakers a minute at the end to say anything extra that may have come up. Please state your name and where you come from. Marc Wadsworth: You talked about consular work, but not that much. One of the most controversial issues was that of virginity tests. I would like to know


On 17 Dec. 1995 a shipment of illegal arms was dropped from an aircraft in Purulia district, West Bengal, India. For this, Peter Bleach (and others) was subsequently arrested, tried and imprisoned (until 2004). See 79 Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw established Biocon in 1978 and subsequently Syngene (1994) and Clinigene (2000).


who sanctioned them, and what you thought of that practice and the issue of allowing alleged Indian brides, and the primary purpose principle, into the UK.80 Fenn: I am happy to say that I know nothing whatever about it. Patrick (Chair): I think that was in a previous period, so I fear that our panellists are not able to comment. Professor Anne Deighton: I thought that was a subtle and interesting account of the way that the relationship between the United Kingdom and India has changed over the past two decades. The implication behind a lot of it was that Britain has to deal more closely with the European Union, and that India is looking out for trade partners globally. I have two questions. Chinese interlocutors often say that they get very confused about the European Union and do not quite know where to look—to Brussels, the big powers, or wherever. Is that the case for the Indians as well? Leading on from that, do the Indians see their way into trade with European countries as being via Brussels and the Brussels machinery, or via key nation states such as Britain, France and Germany? It would be interesting to know who else is competing. More generally, what do Indians think and say to you as British diplomats in New Delhi about the European Union? The perceptions are really very interesting, given that we have moved away from a near-colonial time to one where India is trying to assess the power and friendship distribution internationally. Arthur: Anne, that is a very good question, and as you would expect I have a view on all of this. I am the most recent High Commissioner, so perhaps in terms of EU evolution I should speak first. First, the Indians are a bit like the Chinese—they are befuddled by the complex set of institutions in Brussels and do not terribly like dealing with them. Of course in Trade policy they do—and have to—deal with us. During my time, we did a huge amount of work with Peter Mandelson81 as Trade Commissioner and Kamal Nath,82 who was the Indian Minister at the time. It was all part of the Doha follow-up, and about whether we would get a WTO deal.83 The EU batted very well there. Going back to Patrick’s point about modern diplomacy, Kamal Nath and Peter Mandelson used to text each other the entire time, and part of my game was to find out what the hell they had said to each other in those text messages that were going back and forth. One interesting aspect of modern India, that huge, diverse continent, is that it still sees itself in rather Westphalian terms, much as, I suspect, does China, although I do not know it as well. India is more comfortable dealing with nation states. I have just come from Germany, and the German relationship with India is roaring ahead. Its trade with India in both directions is way ahead of ours. That is for obvious economic reasons, but partly because of the way that Indians look at Europe as a group of individual countries with which they can do                                                                                                                       80

The Labour government of James Callaghan initially sanctioned the use of tests to establish virginity for Asian women who came to the UK as prospective brides. This practice was brought to an end in Feb. 1979. See 81 Peter Mandelson (Lord Mandelson), European Commissioner for Trade, 2004–8. 82 Kamal Nath, Minister of Commerce and Industry, 2004-9. 83 The World Trade Organisation current trade-negotiation round, which commenced in November 2001, at Doha, referred to as Doha Development Round or Doha Development Agenda (DDA).


business. One must not undermine the EU collective, but it certainly has not grown over the past decade, which is quite interesting. Young: I have little to add to that; I entirely agree with what you said, Michael. In my time we had considerable difficulty in getting the Indians to focus on the EU as such. The institution of EU-India summits helped. Arthur: Until they got bored with them. Young: Exactly. It was quite difficult to get away from the nation state approach, and in my time that was not helped by weak Commission representation in Delhi. I pressed endlessly for briefing notes to be circulated to all EU Ambassadors on issues that were current between the EU and India on trade matters, but those briefing notes were never forthcoming. The potential collective clout of all EU Ambassadors talking in the same voice to the Indians on individual dossiers was lost. That was a great pity; we could have done a great deal more than we did in my time. Fenn: First, on the one hand EU colleagues were among the closest, and shared information across the board and met regularly. Secondly, I agree that the EU Ambassador was not the strongest colleague, and we were not very good at mobilising our collective clout. Thirdly, in my time, as in yours, the Indians did not understand the EU at all and much preferred dealing with us nationally. One of our advantages, as I mentioned at the beginning, was that they understood us better than they understood the Germans, French and others. I’m afraid I rather exploited on that. Young: We were helped too, by being at the liberal end of the trade spectrum. We were always arguing for liberalisation for import of goods that India was interested in within Europe. Arthur: We have been saying all afternoon how complex India is and how difficult it is to really get inside India and understand it. The other Europeans are light years behind our rather feeble attempts to do that—they just don’t get it. When you turn up and read out a lecture about human rights in a meeting, the Indians will switch off, wait until you have gone, and get on with business. You have to tackle things in a different way to get your messages across. Many Europeans do not quite get that. Mrs Penny Brook: Not surprisingly, given where I come from, I am interested in cultural diplomacy, how it fits in with what we do, and how institutions such as the British Library can support it. In particular, I am responsible for the India Office Records, so I obviously have to be very aware of the sensitivities relating to the period of the Raj. Young: Two points. First, one of our objectives with the British Council was to try and increase the flow of academics, both ways, between India and the UK. By the time I got to India, there had been a reduction in the numbers of centres of excellence on South Asia in the UK. I hope that has been reversed by now, but I do not know. One problem was the intense difficulty of getting visas for British academics who wanted to study in India for any length of time. You could just about get in for a fortnight on a tourist visa if you were clever, but anything longer and you ran up against the most awful bureaucracy. That, of


course, did not encourage British institutions to work with Indian institutions. I hope that that has improved. Secondly, I want to underline what has been said before by colleagues about the role of educational links more generally. Following the period after 1982 when Margaret Thatcher put up fees for foreign students, it is a real success story to have attracted the number of Indian students who are studying in the UK today, given the relatively low number of scholarships—around 700— in comparison with the tens of thousands available in the United States. That is no mean feat, and a lot of credit must go to the British Council for that. Arthur: I will add one point. As you know, Indians are great at cataloguing and recording, and there is a huge volume of material out there. If you look more broadly at the social sciences, or indeed the natural sciences, an important new element in our relationship needs to be in the scientific field. There is someone present today who was with the joint research councils in their office in Delhi, and that is a sign of the future. There are huge talents and resources out there that we need to plug into, and vice versa. Patrick (Chair): And indeed the UK does play a major role in that. Dr Chandrika Kaul: I have two questions. I was struck by what Sir Michael said about the diaspora, and you are absolutely right to say that the British High Commission, and its voice in India, would be strengthened if the Indian diaspora backed it. Should the British High Commission do more to get people batting for them in India? Secondly, you made a point about how big the organisation is in India, in terms of the numbers employed and so on. That is in striking contrast to the fact that India used to be massively covered by the British press, right through the twentieth century until the 1960s and 1970s. Now, the number of British journalists who cover India can be counted on one hand. What more can—or should—be done to give Indian issues a higher profile in the British media? Perceptions create their own reality and images of India in Britain filter back to India and, I think, speak much more loudly than diplomats. Arthur: I entirely agree. The more we can do to get perceptions of India modernised across Britain, the better. There is good quality press reporting from India, but the numbers involved are smaller than they used to be—I agree with that. On the diaspora, as far as I can see people are pretty supportive of what we are trying to do bilaterally, and there are many British-based companies of Indian origin that are now going back to India and building a successful partnership. When I went to India, just after Rob, Lord Paul84 had big investments all round the world, but nothing at all in India. When I left—not because of me but because India had changed—he had 17 twenty-first century factories, a symptom of the sort of things that a lot of prominent British Indians are doing. All of us, particularly Rob and I, were there at a period after the Gujarat riots when it was British Government policy not to deal with Mr Modi in Gujarat.85 That was partly because of what happened, and partly because of the British Gujarati community. To this day, I have never set foot in Gujarat. When I was                                                                                                                       84 85

Swraj Paul (Lord Paul) founded the UK-based Caparo Group in 1968. ND Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, 2001-.


High Commissioner, I was not allowed to do so for that reason. The diaspora does play a significant political role. Fenn: Swraj Paul’s first attempt to invest in India was in Orissa—I cannot remember the date. To my astonishment, I was invited by the Chief Minister of Orissa to come and inaugurate a new factory. It did not exist; it was just an open space. He bussed in 110,000 people, and I was invited to address them in a language they did not understand. The Chief Minister volunteered his services as an interpreter, but by the wild acclamation of the crowd I think he was making some quite different speech. Dr Judith Rowbotham: I was interested that across both panels one thing that stands out is that in the nineteenth century, in order to get into the India Office or the Colonial Office, you had to serve your time in Ireland. The Irish were held to be very good training for dealing with colonial subjects elsewhere. Both civil law and criminal law in India is heavily based on codes developed by us in the nineteenth century, as is the culture in which law is interpreted and applied. Given the recent incidents of terrorism and the management of riots, and the more limited presentation of that within the press in this country and in India, how much of a help or hindrance is it to have that continuing historic tie in terms of the law and the management of it? Fenn: I would rate it high, as a plus. I am not absolutely certain that I understand what downside you are envisaging. In my time, we had lots of delegations of senior British lawyers, some of them under the Commonwealth and some bilaterally, and the fact that Indian and British lawyers talked to each other in languages that they understood was a help when, for example, we had to address in India issues of Indian law concerning British subjects who were in trouble. I thought it was a plus element to our relationship. Young: I thought that was the case too, although there were problems such as the inability of British lawyers to practise in India. Any Indian can come to the UK, set up shop, practise and plead in British courts without too much difficulty, but in India you cannot even set up an office, let alone practise in an Indian court. A great deal of effort has been expended on trying to persuade the Indians to loosen up in that area. There is a structural problem, but overall I agree with Nick. The relationship benefits from the fact that there is commonality of legal structures and practices. The understanding that was manifest between senior legal figures, who regularly came out to India, provided evidence of that. Sir Robert Wade-Gery: May I make a supplementary remark? When our relations were at their most difficult in my early days, we had a visit from the then Lord Chancellor. 86 I was amazed because they were boycotting ministerial visits. The Lord Chancellor came out and was received by the entire High Court Bench of India, and listened to with tremendous respect. He went—I went with him—and had a long conversation with Rajiv Gandhi, who also treated him with enormous respect. The respect for British law and the person of the Lord Chancellor as the embodiment of that was absolutely palpable. It was one of the really heartening things that happened when things were just starting to                                                                                                                       86

Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Chancellor, 1987-97.


improve. Lord Mackay was everything that you would hope from a Lord Chancellor. That is an unqualified asset. Arthur: In trying to persuade British businessmen to look actively at India, the fact of having a legal framework within which people could find their way was also quite an asset. The only downside to the great legal link was that in India, politicians tend to go on about 20 years longer than in Britain. I had a senior politician of a certain age, and his view of what was happening in Britain tended to be based on what he picked up from his mates at Cambridge. They had long since passed being in active life in Britain, and I had to sort of modernise that view of Britain on the legal network. Otherwise, however, it is a great link. Darlena David: My question is about human rights. We heard a couple of times that it has been easier to talk about human rights in the context of economics than it had been in the past when the Indians did not really listen to sermons about human rights. Perhaps you have found a different way. Being an Indian, I see the burgeoning trade and the dynamism of entrepreneurs, but there are also downsides to that. In parts of India, people are suffering some of the consequences of rapid industrialisation and globalisation. What is your take on that? Fenn: You are getting at me aren’t you? The issue of human rights was one of the ‘no-no’ subjects. Then, we had a new economic relationship that enabled us to talk to each other on an entirely new basis of mutual confidence and meant that we could talk about human rights in private. Indeed, the establishment of the Indian National Human Rights Commission and, towards the end of my time, of human rights monitoring of events in Kashmir, were things for which those Indians within India who were concerned about the promotion of human rights turned to us for help. We were only able to make a small contribution. I understand and agree with what you are saying. You remind me vividly of my encounter in London with the late Robin Cook when he was Opposition spokesman for foreign affairs87 during my last summer as High Commissioner. He announced that after the British election there would be a change because for him, Indo-British relations were a matter of human rights. I said, ‘I acknowledged that human rights in India were a matter of concern. It would be easy to strike a posture. But counter-productive. If we wanted to actually improve human rights on the ground, he might wish to consider starting with economics and getting into human rights on the back of that. He said, ‘High Commissioner, you have not understood. I can’t play that game: straightforward stuff, me’. Robin Cook’s ‘straightforward stuff’ set back human rights in India by perhaps a decade.’ Arthur: I was going to make a similar point. It is about what you are trying to achieve and how you go about that. If we march in and say to the current Indian Government, ‘You’ve got a big insurrection with the Naxalite movement; you are handling it wrong and this is how you should do it,’ we would be shown the door. Instead we could go in—as we do—with DFID development assistance into Madhya Pradesh, where women’s mortality rates are worse than in Africa, and create women’s empowerment that leads to a more prosperous village. I have seen that and it is fantastic. It is also an issue of human rights, although                                                                                                                       87

Robin Cook (1946-2005), Shadow Foreign Secretary 1994-7.


that is perhaps not what lay behind your question. It is partly about what we want to achieve and how we do it. Young: I have one additional comment that has been made before in another context. It also depends on whether you conduct this kind of dialogue in public or try and go public. I certainly tried to avoid public comments on this kind of issue, even when one had had a tough discussion in private and then gone out to find a few television cameras and radio reporters outside who wanted to hear about what I had said to the Minister. The Indians—quite rightly—bridle more at the UK taking them to task about that kind of issue than they do at any other country, and therefore we have to remain as confidential as possible if we are to get anywhere. Of course, the counterargument is that it tends to suggest to the outside world that nothing is happening at all—well, so be it I’m afraid. If it looks as if nothing is happening, that is the price to pay for trying to maximise influence through quiet diplomacy. Fenn: Hear hear. Deighton: You are absolutely right about India, but our scholar is making an important point about the porosity of borders. You have talked eloquently about people-to-people contacts and cultural contacts, but the bottom line for diplomats is really the involvement, secrecy and getting through the next day. You have made it clear that trade and Britain’s prosperity is your No. 1 aim, but it is difficult in a globalised world that uses blogs and social networking if there is not a high profile on human rights disappointment that is not just social and economic but cultural as well. There is a whole new body of young scholars in London, Oxford and the major universities who now look at such issues through a different light. I would rather urge the Foreign Office to incorporate that way of looking at the world into its diplomacy, including public diplomacy. Arthur: Of course you are right, but we must look at the instruments we have available. For example, there was a debate earlier about the criteria for where British development aid should go. One criterion that I saw exercised during my period was to ensure that aid went to states in India that were better run than others. That way, we are not supporting things that are going wrong in terms of human rights, for example. That is a tool we can use for that wider goal, but it is done more discreetly. Patrick (Chair): We may have time for one final question before asking the panel to say a final word. Gareth Roberts: I am the head of the India Team in the Foreign Office and I was hoping to get the benefit of your experience. We have been tasked with developing the Prime Minister’s vision of an enhanced partnership with India, and I was hoping to hear your ideas about which parts of the relationship are underdeveloped and what we should guard against. Andrew Patrick (Chair): Difficult question. Young: I retired eight years ago, and therefore I am not best placed to say what parts of the relationship are underdeveloped at this juncture. I think I had better pass.


Patrick (Chair): Perhaps it is a little unfair to ask you to comment on current policy. Fenn: I think the question was addressed to you, Chair. Patrick (Chair): Since I am the questioner’s line manager— I can answer him in private. Howell: From this fascinating and marvellous conversation one would not necessarily be aware that we are dealing with one of the most high-tech countries on earth. There used to be a remote answering service attitude to India, but it is now miles ahead of us in programming, computer technology and communications, and in the hardware and software of the entire information revolution. As we know, it is producing numerate children and electronically trained engineers by the million, who are sweeping the globe. We should perhaps have a stronger realisation of that aspect and of who we are trading and dealing with. These people are moving ahead of us not only in numerate issues and electronic information, but in the whole culture and the attitudes that go with that. We may as well recognise that because it requires a slightly different attitude, and possibly a greater deference and awe in face of the phenomenon, than we have mustered in the past. Arthur: I entirely agree with what Lord Howell has just said. Of course we need to target more obvious things such as trade and so on, but Governments alone cannot deliver on that. What is particular to our relationship is the human side. We have talked about education and social matters and so on, and if we can build on that towards some new objective, that is important. Let us put ourselves in India’s shoes and look forward 20 years. One of the great competitions of this century will be India and China in one guise or another. As that competition evolves, we need to be in a position that is helpful to India, not the opposite. I do not know what that translates into, and it is not about taking sides. It is about thinking through Indian minds about how the country will handle being a leader in the twenty-first century, and where Britain’s role in that could be. Patrick (Chair): Perhaps I could ask you to say a few final words before we break up. Nick, would you like to start? Fenn: First, I am grateful to the Minister for his comment. A proper attitude of humility towards India for its recent achievement is certainly part of it. I would like to add, however, a proper attitude of humility towards Indian achievement more generally and the irrepressible liberty that is a reality of India. India is well known to the British public imagination in terms of horrendous poverty, overpopulation and widespread disease. Those things are all true. And as President Shankar Dayal Sharma88 said when I was there, the four great evils of India—communalism, corruption, criminalisation, casteism: the awfulness of India is true. Beside that, however, we must set the terrific achievement of India. Every Indian has a notion, from which every other Indian dissents, and they are all talking at once in 16 official languages and 562 dialects. It is a marvellous cacophony and when Indian Governments are defeated, they go. Democracy on that scale is a wonder of the world, and we should stand in                                                                                                                       88

Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma (1918-99), President of India, 1992-7.


humility before India both for its technological achievements and for its ability to translate democracy into that kind of spectacular size. Young: I agree entirely and would simply add a couple of thoughts. First, we have seen in the way that India has conducted its foreign policy over the past 20 years since the end of the Cold War, an abandonment of the rather heady idealism of non-alignment for a much more hard-headed practical assessment of where India’s national interests lie in relation to individual countries. That applies to the UK just as much as to any other country. The fact that we have a shared historical back drop does not mean that India will look at us through more rose-tinted spectacles. We have to live with a clear, hard-headed Indian assessment of where its interests lie. At private sector level, however, that is behind the decisions of a number of Indian companies from over the past decade to invest heavily in the UK. We must ensure as a nation and Diplomatic Service that India looks to the UK politically, as much as it is willing to look to the UK economically in investment terms. We need political investment from India, and to do that we must be attractive as a country in our own right, and give India the help, support and co-operation on a level of equality and partnership that we have been seeking for the past 20 years. I believe that is achievable, especially as the previous two British Governments have realised that a handful of countries in the world require more diplomatic resources rather than fewer, and India is one of those. Arthur: I agree with both those statements. The previous two Governments have also realised that India is a country with which we can do some very interesting business in the twenty-first century. The two special things that I want people to take away from here are first, think modern India, and secondly, remember the diaspora. Patrick (Chair): Thank you very much to our panellists. I think we have a reception afterwards, so please stay and mingle. I thank Lord Howell for introducing this session so appropriately, and please give a big thank you to our three panellists for shedding light during this discussion.



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Witness Seminar: The Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi  
Witness Seminar: The Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi  

The Role and Functions of the British High Commission in New Delhi.