When former prime minister Manmohan Singh considered attacking Pakistan
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh planned to take military action against Pakistan if another Mumbai-type terror attack occurred, David Cameron, who interacted with him as prime minister, reveals in his book describing Singh as a ‘saintly man’.
Cameron, who visited India three times as prime minister from 2010 to 2016, resigned in the wake of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union. He makes several references about his ‘India doctrine’ in his memoir, ‘For The Record’, released on Thursday.
Cameron writes: “I got on well with prime minister Manmohan Singh. He was a saintly man, but he was robust on the threats India faced. On a later visit he told me that another terrorist attack like that in Mumbai in July 2011 and India would have to take military action against Pakistan”.
As the Conservative leader and prime minister, Cameron is credited with considerably enhancing the party’s and the UK’s approach towards India. It helped the party in the 2010 election, when large sections of the 1.5 million-strong Indian community voted for it.
Cameron was the prime minister in 2013 when the UK government ended its diplomatic boycott of the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat after the 2002 riots. He later hosted Prime Minister Modi in November 2015 in a visit widely considered successful.
On his approach to India, he writes: “When it came to India, I argued that we needed a modern partnership – not one tinged with colonial guilt, but alive to the possibilities of the world’s oldest democracy and the world’s largest democracy”.
Like the UK-US relationship historically described as ‘special’, Cameron writes that he did not want it to be the country’s “only special relationship”, but wanted to carve out privileged partnerships with India and China. He wanted a ‘new special relationship’ with India.
‘British-Indian prime minister’
Cameron writes about Modi’s 2015 visit: “There were several ‘moments’, including the largest-ever gathering of the Indian diaspora in the UK at Wembley Stadium. Before introducing Modi, I told the 60,000-strong crowd that I envisaged a British-Indian entering 10 Downing Street as prime minister one day”.
“The roar of approval was incredible. And as Modi and I hugged on stage, I hoped that this small gesture…would be a signal of the open-armed eagerness with which Britain approached the world”.
Cameron was the first British prime minister to visit Jallianwalla Bagh in Amritsar in 2013. He writes of the visit: “For a long time, friends and colleagues in the British Indian community had encouraged me to go to the Golden Temple in Amritsar”.
“This holiest of Sikh sites had been the scene of a massacre in 1919, when British Indian Army soldiers fired upon a peaceful public meeting, killing hundreds of people. No serving prime minister had ever been to Amritsar, let alone expressed regret for what happened”.
Apologising for Jallianwalla Bagh
“I wanted to change both those things, and would do so after the trade mission – the largest in UK history – I would lead to India in February 2013. Ahead of my visit there was an internal row about whether I should say ‘sorry’.”
“But ultimately, I felt that expressing regret for what I described in the memorial’s book of condolence as ‘a deeply shameful event in British history’ was appropriate. I knew what it meant to British Sikhs that their prime minister had made that gesture, and I’m glad I did so”.
Cameron initiated his ‘India doctrine’ soon after being elected Conservative leader in 2005. He would visit gurdwaras and turn up at Indian community events, including those by religious leaders visiting from India, such as Morari Bapu.
Proud of Indians
He writes of the community: “Many of Britain’s most successful business leaders and cultural figures are from the Indian diaspora community and would be our greatest weapons in that endeavour. I was proud to have many of them, like Priti Patel, Shailesh Vara, Alok Shama (sic) and Paul Uppal, on the Conservative benches in the House of Commons”.
Jitesh Gadhia, member of the House of Lords, said on the memoir: “Cameron’s positive legacy with India should not be drowned out by Brexit. As someone who had the privilege of working closely with David Cameron, his efforts to build a modern partnership with India deserve more charitable treatment from historians”.
“Throughout his tenure, Cameron did more than any other holder of his office to reach out proactively to India, as an emerging superpower, and to recognise the outsized contribution made by over 1.5 million members of the British Indian diaspora.”
Pakistan, Afghanistan politics
Recalling his efforts for peace between Pakistan and Afghanistan, Cameron writes about former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai staying in the prime minister’s country residence, Chequers, in 2013.
“The high-water mark of my efforts came at the Chequers summit in 2013 when Karzai and President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan spent two days in talks. They slept in adjoining bedrooms, each with a guard outside sitting ramrod-straight and wide awake in his chair”.
“I came downstairs the next morning to find the two presidents joking about which of them had been snoring the loudest”.