Even as the worst smog of the century continues to shroud the Indian Capital, and most sensible Delhi-ites stay indoors on a sub-30° C weekend when they would have otherwise wandered out in their zippy bikes and macho SUVs, a small band of people are furiously at work in preparation for the India-UK Tech Summit at Hotel Taj Palace to be held from 7-9 November, 2016.
For the dedicated teams behind the scenes at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Dept. of Science & Technology in the Govt. of India and the British High Commission, Monday morning will see the culmination of almost a year of planning and hectic execution. Promotional material issued by the organisers states "Tech Summit 2016 brings together the most exciting thought leaders, businesses, educational institutions and innovators to connect and explore the future of India-UK collaboration". The fact that this will be the first overseas trade mission by the Brexit-beleaguered British Prime Minister, Theresa May should be seen as a sign of the importance the island nation accords to its former crown jewel. And the fact that Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, will address a specially invited audience very early on a smoggy Monday morning should also highlight the significance of this meeting of the two leaders.
However, in the wake of the Brexit vote and Great Britain's impending separation from the European Union, it is only natural that it once again explores distant shores to bolster trade relations – especially a country that has evolved from a colony to the fastest-growing economy (give or take a few GDP percentage points with China). And, for Indian industrialists and politicians, traditionally enamoured by the charms of London, there is an emotional connect that transcends economics. For the next three days, people will forget that the United Kingdom has become a safe haven for men on India's wanted list: arms dealer SudhirChoudhrie, liquor baron Vijay Mallya and IPL-creator Lalit Modi: it's not quite cricket, after all, to let an event of this scale be sullied by the mention of alleged scamsters. Of course, the footnote that, as Home Secretary earlier, the same Theresa May had given a prominent business award to SudhirChoudhrie who has since donated more than 1 million pounds to the British Liberal Democrat party, is unlikely to be missed by the Indian Government. Nor will the Labour Party's recent allegation that their country played a covert role in the 1984 Operation Bluestar, help. Chances are, there will be frenetic backroom negotiations to get the British authorities to cooperate in return for investments related to futuristic technologies because diplomacy and commerce are inextricably linked.
It remains to be seen how all this will play out but the Tech Summit does offer three action-packed days of parallel conferences on five themes: Technology, Higher Education, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Intellectual Property and Design. Sir Dominic Asquith, KCMG, British High Commissioner to India, has been quoted in the pre-summit brochure: "The event brings together a collection of over 100 UK companies across a range of sectors rich in technology."With as many, if not more, Indian counterparts expected to be in attendance from the private and public sectors, startups, academicians, bureaucrats and consultants, the India-UK Tech Summit promises to be an event replete with opportunity. Already, India is the third largest investor in the UK which, in turn, is the largest G20 investor in India.
Despite the foul air outside the Hotel Taj Palace, there is certain to be clarity and bonhomie as the two countries engage – not just to exchange platitudes but to ascertain how their partnership across diverse sectors can help each other in the years ahead. For this alone, the India-UK Tech Summit 2016 will be watched closely and will, hopefully, not disappoint the large delegations on both sides as they connect, co-create and collaborate.