Rishi Sunak, the newly installed UK prime minister, reportedly speaks basic Hindi. On Nov. 16, he tweeted partly in the language after meeting his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in Bali, Indonesia, on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
An image shared in the tweet is a close-up photograph of the two world leaders, with hands clasped. “United by friendship,” Sunak, a Conservative, and the first person of south Asian origin to lead from 10 Downing Street, states first in English. The Hindi part of the tweet simply said, “A strong friendship.”
It has garnered 167,000 likes and 22,000 retweets as of this publishing.
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Besides signaling Sunak’s Indian roots, the tweet is notable also in the context of the free-trade negotiations the two countries have been engaged in since earlier this year. They have already missed the Oct. 24 deadline for a deal.
The potential benefits of a UK-India free trade agreement
A UK government press release issued alongside the launch of the negotiations in January noted that an agreement between the nations “has the potential to almost double UK exports to India, boost our total trade by as much as £28 billion a year by 2035, and increase wages across the UK by up to £3 billion.”
Facing an unprecedented economic crisis, the UK needs all the help it can get. In September, India overtook it to become the world’s fifth-largest economy by GDP and continues to grow at a relatively robust rate.
Bilateral trade between India and Britain increased to $17.5 billion in 2021-22 compared to $13.2 billion in 2020-21, the Hindustan Times reported this week. India’s exports stood at $10.5 billion in 2021-22, while imports were $7 billion, the report said.
Sunak offered India an “olive branch” with 3,000 visas
Only days before Sunak took charge as prime minister, UK home secretary Suella Braverman—born to parents of Indian origin—had ruffled feathers by publicly expressing fears that a trade deal with India would fuel immigration into her country.
Sunak now seems to have assuaged some of the irritation her views caused in India. As The Guardian reported, he “proffered an olive branch on visas on Tuesday (Nov. 15) night by giving the green light to 3,000 two-year visas for Indian young professionals.”
But while he deems a broader trade agreement a “fantastic opportunity,” the UK prime minister seems in no rush to finalize one, reportedly saying before his meeting with Modi that the UK shouldn’t “sacrifice quality” for a speedy deal.
Meanwhile, he is perfecting his politics on the world stage. His part-Hindi tweet is likely to work in his favor among Indians celebrating his ascent as a global leader. And a trade deal with India that works well for the UK will earn Sunak plaudits at home.