The trendy and tattoo-sporting delegation led by British Prime Minister David Cameron was far from being embarrassed over the scandal involving the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland. Instead, they spoke of the controversial chopper maker as a ‘multifaceted platform' and displayed the company's logo at the events organised jointly by the UK Trade & Investment, Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh wasn't amused when he met Cameron at the Hyderabad House: “I conveyed to Prime Minister Cameron our very serious concerns regarding allegations about unethical means used in securing the 2010 contract for AgustaWestland helicopters,” Singh said. “I told him that we have asked the company [by February 22] to examine if the contractual provisions on unethical practices and the Integrity Pact have been violated. I have sought full assistance from the UK in this case.”
The UK Trade Delegation included Dick Olver, chairman of British Aerospace (BAE) Systems, and Robin Southwell, chief of EADS, renowned for building hi-tech mid-air refueling systems and air tankers. Cameron dropped enough hints that his government will push for new generation military hardware in the coming years. Air Commodore (rtd) Jasjit Singh's words supported Cameron. “The Jaguar is still flying with the Indian Air Force and then there are the Hawk AJTs. Though currently dominated by the Russian, Israeli, US and French suppliers, Indian armed forces have deep historical ties with the British arms industries, which will not change overnight due to a scandal; after all the scam is yet to be proved. British tech is not bad but their quantum is reducing on the world scale and that is why the UK wants to get back into the list of arms suppliers to India,” he said, and added that the BAE has been in touch with Indian consultants to push for UK-India partnership in defence.
Cameron's visit followed that of the French President Francois Hollande. There have been hushed talks of protracted negotiations between India and France on the deal involving the medium multi-role combat fighter Rafale. Also, Delhi's diplomatic circles were rife with rumours about how Cameron might push for the Eurofighter in case of post-deal problems over the Rafale aircraft.