British Prime Minister David Cameron and a massive delegation of Cabinet ministers and dignitaries fanned out across India on Wednesday in a visit aimed at rebuilding trade relations and other ties between the two nations.
As the former colonial power here, Britain has had a complicated bond with India. But Cameron's newly elected government has placed special emphasis on India, hoping its emerging economy and growing international influence can help fuel British growth.
"I'm here with a very clear purpose: to renew the relationship between India and Britain to relaunch a relationship that is stronger, wider and deeper," Cameron wrote in India's The Hindu newspaper Wednesday.
Cameron brought with him six government ministers, about 50 leaders of some of Britain's largest companies, Olympic gold medalists and academics.
He began his visit in the southern city of Bangalore, where he was to drop in on local companies and his business minister was to visit a high-tech office park.
Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Treasury chief George Osborne will ring the opening bell at the Bombay Stock Exchange and address business leaders.
The delegation was then to head to New Delhi, where Cameron would hold talks Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The two leaders were expected to seal a round of trade deals and Cameron was expected to ask India to reduce trade barriers in several businesses, including banking and defense manufacturing. Singh was expected to raise concerns about British efforts to stem Indian immigration and to insist that India maintain a role in nearby Afghanistan, despite the objections of rival Pakistan.
Writing in the Hindu, Cameron said he intended to focus his visit on encouraging investment links between the two nations, strengthening their security ties, especially in the fight against global terrorism, working together to meet the challenge of climate change.
Cameron's decision to visit India so soon after taking office has sent a strong message of the value he places on the relationship between the two countries.
"I know that Britain cannot rely on sentiment and shared history for a place in India's future," Cameron wrote. "Your country has the whole world beating a path to its door. But I believe Britain should be India's partner of choice in the years ahead. Starting this week, that is what we are determined to deliver."
Britain was the 5th largest exporter to India in 2005, but has since fallen to 18th. Exports to India dropped from 4.12 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) in 2008 to 2.9 billion ($4.5 billion) in 2009.
The British party includes Barclays Group CEO John Varley, defense giant BAE chairman Richard L. Oliver, jet engine maker Rolls Royce executive Miles Cowdry, chief executive of England's soccer Premier League, Richard Scudamore, and the heads of the British Museum and British Library.