Alpesh Patel’s Political Sketchbook: UK India – the Cufflinks That Bind

Alpesh Patel Wednesday 13th December 2023 05:24 EST

I write to you from India, here in my official capacity as UK Government Dealmaker.

The unique and deeply nuanced relationship between the United Kingdom and India is a testament to a shared history that, while complex, has evolved into a partnership marked by mutual respect and admiration. This relationship, symbolized by the unassuming act of purchasing cufflinks in India adorned with a postage stamp of King George, reflects a profound understanding and acceptance of a shared past.

Historically, the narrative of colonial rule is often fraught with tension and conflict. However, the Indo-British relationship transcends the conventional post-colonial script. It's a narrative where the echoes of the past have not hindered the forging of a future built on collaboration and mutual understanding. This is exemplified in the poignant symbol of the Americans, who, despite their anthem's lyrics reflecting their struggle against British rule, now share a "special relationship" with the UK. Similarly, India, a former jewel in the British crown, displays no ill will towards its former imperial overlord.

The Indian national day of mourning following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was a solemn reminder of the depth of this relationship. British and Indian troops, once on opposite sides of a colonial divide, now patrol side by side along the India-China border, a testament to the transformed relationship. This cooperation is not just a matter of diplomatic convenience but a reflection of a shared ethos and mutual respect.

The story of India's independence is unique. Unlike many colonies that gained freedom through prolonged conflict, India parted ways with the British Empire as friends. This amicable separation set the tone for future interactions. The erection of Mahatma Gandhi's statue in Parliament Square, sanctioned by the then British Prime Minister who now serves under a British Indian Prime Minister, is a powerful symbol of this enduring friendship. It signifies not only reconciliation but also mutual admiration and respect for the values that Gandhi espoused - values that resonate deeply in the corridors of British power.

The role of British-educated Indians in India's struggle for independence is a lesser-told but equally significant narrative. Their fight was not just against a foreign ruler but for the ideals of liberty and self-governance. These ideals were, paradoxically, imparted to them in the very heart of the empire, highlighting the complex interplay of ideas and ideologies that transcends national boundaries.

In a world where historical grievances often simmer and resurface in bitter conflicts, the Indo-British relationship stands as a beacon of hope. It shows how history, no matter how tumultuous, can give way to a future where former adversaries become allies. When a British monarch bestows an honor, like the Officer of the Order of the British Empire, upon an individual of Indian origin, it's not seen as incongruous but as a celebration of a shared heritage and mutual respect.

This relationship, intricate and layered, is not just about diplomatic ties. It's about the intertwining of lives, histories, and aspirations. The exchange of a simple item like cufflinks bearing the image of King George is not merely a transaction but a symbol of a relationship that has weathered the storms of history and emerged stronger. It is a relationship that acknowledges the past, celebrates the present, and looks forward to a future of continued partnership and understanding.

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