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Defence Minister arrives in UK for defence, security dialogue

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh witnesses the signing of MoU of India and UK on bilateral international cadet exchange programme with the UK Defence Minister Grant Shapps, in London, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024. (Photo: PIB)

LONDON (PTI): Defence Minister Rajnath Singh arrived in London on Monday for a three-day visit focusing on all aspects of the India-UK Defence Partnership and to hold high-level discussions covering a wide range of defence, security and industrial cooperation issues.

Singh is accompanied by a Ministry of Defence delegation comprised of senior officials from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Service Headquarters, Department of Defence, and Department of Defence Production.

Besides a bilateral meeting with his UK counterpart, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, he is also expected to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary David Cameron.

“During his visit, the Raksha Mantri will hold a bilateral meeting with his UK counterpart Secretary of State for Defence, Mr Grant Shapps. They are expected to discuss a wide range of defence, security and industrial cooperation issues,” the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi said in a pre-visit statement over the weekend.

“Shri Rajnath Singh is also expected to call on UK Prime Minister Mr Rishi Sunak and hold a meeting with Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Affairs Mr David Cameron. He will also interact with the CEOs and industry leaders of the UK Defence Industry and meet with the Indian community there,” the statement added.

A ceremonial Guard of Honour, visits to Mahatma Gandhi and Dr B.R. Ambedkar memorials, a defence industry roundtable and community interactions with the Indian diaspora at Neasden Temple and India House are on the agenda during what is seen as a significant visit, given that the last Indian defence ministerial-level visit to the UK took place 22 years ago.

“In substantive terms, the visit will seek to deepen military cooperation and defence industrial partnerships with the UK by building on the November 2023 Defence Consultative Group (DCG) meeting in Delhi at the level of Secretaries and the inaugural meeting of the 2+2 Foreign and Defence Dialogue at the level of Joint Secretaries in October 2023,” says Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, Senior Fellow for South and Central Asian Defence, Strategy and Diplomacy at the London-based think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

The defence analyst believes that through the ministerial-level dialogue, the British government could seek to provide an “enabling environment” for British companies to pursue these objectives in India.

“Also, with India’s and the UK’s recent focus on the Indo-Pacific, there is a unique opportunity to bolster naval and maritime security cooperation with third countries in the western Indian Ocean region, including with Oman and Kenya, which host UK military and naval presence amidst a greater role and influence in the area by the Indian Navy,” he noted.

The last visit by an Indian Defence Minister to the UK was by George Fernandes in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-led BJP government back in January 2002.

A previously planned visit by Rajnath Singh to the UK in June 2022 was called off by the Indian side for “protocol reasons”, making this week’s tour a keenly watched one.

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