London: British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would be "very sad" if India boycotted the London Olympics following the row over sponsorship of the event by Dow Chemicals, linked to the Bhopal Gas tragedy of 1984.
"It would be a very sad day," he told Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN when asked about a possible boycott by India of the London Olympics.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to a special Devil's Advocate brought to you from 10, Downing Street, London. As Britain prepares for the Summer Olympics as well as the Queen's jubilee, how does it view relations with India – that's the key questions I shall put today to Prime Minister of the country, David Cameron.
Prime Minister Cameron, as 2012, a critical year for Britain, gets underway, how do you view relationship with India?
David Cameron:Well I think it's a special relationship, it's a very strong relationship. India was the first country that had a proper official visit to, when I became the leader of the opposition, and it was one of the first countries I visited as prime minister. I think it's a good reason for this relationship being special. We have got all the ties of history and language and many of our shared cultural views. But also, it's a thoroughly modern relationship. There are many people in India who made their home in Britain, many from Britain in India… huge investors in each other's country. We share so many other same enthusiasms and passion. So I see it as a thoroughly modern relationship that conjures strength from the past but it's got a long way to go.
Karan Thapar:Now as you have said that this is a special relationship and Britain put a lot of store on winning the Indian jet fighter deal and felt snubbed when it went to Rafale. Does the typhoon still stand a chance or have you come to accept that this one has gone to Rafale?
David Cameron:Well of course we are disappointed by what has happened but we still think that typhoon is the best aircraft, it is the best value, has the best capabilities, the longest life and the rest of it was still press... the case.. and it would be for the Indians to decide what they eventually want.
Karan Thapar:So you still think that there is a chance that they may take the typhoon?
David Cameron:Very much it's up to the Indian government. There has been a setback with the initial look at Rafale but we will go on pressing the case. This is a very very strong aircraft and we believe that people will see the logic. But that's for the Indian government to decide.
Karan Thapar:You said there has been a setback and clearly from the press, one got the feeling that there was a cloud over the horizon, as you know there were howls of protest in February. Some MPs spoke about India being ungrateful. The press called for a cut in aid. Has this affected the relationship?
David Cameron:Well I don't think so. We are both grown up countries, mature countries that understand there is a need clearly for India to have the best jet fighters available. We think that's the typhoon. That's India's decision. Our relationship is though far wider than that. And I don't make connections between one part of relationship and another. I don't think that's the right way for modern countries to work. But I think typhoon would be a great deal for India than for Britain. But that would stop me than going ahead and say, 'Let's go on maximising trade and investment between our countries. Let's go on and work on all the political and security and diplomatic issues that we have together...of course not."
Karan Thapar:So your intention, whether you get the typhoon deal or not, is to push and boost trade and wider relationship with India.
David Cameron:Yes absolutely, let's take it from Britain's perspective. India is the third largest investor into Britain. I think some people are always gonna have this outdated view that there's a lot of outsourcing going on from Britain to India, but that's the extent of the relationship... Completely wrong. I mean India owns... Indian businesses own some of the most iconic British brands. Car companies like Jaguar Land Rover that are selling cars all over the world. What a great combination between Indian capital and British labour that's actually producing a world-beating car.
Karan Thapar:And this is what you want it made of...
David Cameron:Much more. I want to see more Indian investment into Britain and I want to see more investment from Britain into India. I think there's a great complementarity between the economies...in terms of the different strengths of the two... one particular area I am keen on and have spoken to Prime Minister Singh about this on many occasions, is our expertise in insurance and banking and finance, retail... we hope that over time the Indian economy would keep opening up in the way that it so successfully opened.
Karan Thapar:In fact those are the reforms that keep being talked about in India... some of them are in fact seven years old and still not developed. Are you disappointed that despite the rhetoric, the delivery in terms of banking and insurance and pension reforms, actually is non-existent?
David Cameron:Of course I want things to go further and faster but I am one of life's optimists and I think that the logic and the benefit to both countries of progressively opening up our trade and investment is so great, will create more jobs, will create more wealth, both in India and Britain that I think in the end, the argument will win on its own merit. But I will go on pushing and trying for this.
Karan Thapar:What explanation does Dr Singh give you when he fails to deliver despite the fact that he has promised for instance insurance reforms way back in 2004 when he first came to power. You must have raised this with him for sure. What explanation does he give for failure to deliver?
David Cameron:Well I think it's never easy in any political system to make changes that involve opening up. There are always interests in your own countries that will say, "Oh don't make that change. Don't make that alteration." I think we have to just go on making the argument and that's the discussion that PM Singh and I have.
Karan Thapar:That's very understanding...
David Cameron:I am a very understanding person.
Karan Thapar:Aren't you a little irritated by the delay... a little impatient?
David Cameron:Of course.. of course I want the opening up to take place. But it's for the Indian political system, the Indian government to make that decision. I would just go on making the arguments about why it's beneficial. Look at Britain. We are one of the most open economies in the world. It's very easy for companies to come and invest here, to set up businesses here, to float on the stock market here. That is our strength. And that...
Karan Thapar: And you want Dr Singh to do the same very quickly...he doesn't do it very fast.
David Cameron:But India is a different economy and at a different stage of development, there are different pressures, I understand that. But I will go on making the argument. I think our businesses could meet together and discuss these issues and make a very good progress, in keeping up the pressure for these changes…
Karan Thapar:Prime Minister, let’s come to what could be an issue that bedevils the relationship over the next four months. I am talking about Dow Chemicals’ sponsorship of the London Olympics. Now the Indian government has formally asked for Dow to be dropped as a sponsor. Do you as prime minister of Britain understand and sympathise with the sentiment behind it or do you oppose it?
David Cameron:But of course I understand the anger there is… the huge suffering that happened at Bhopal and afterwards, and in fact my heart still goes out to all those who suffered from that appalling tragedy… I can remember as a young man reading about that… and being profoundly shocked by what happened. But I think we do have to recognise two important points. First, Dow was not the owner of Union Carbide at the time, so this is a different company and a different business. Secondly and more importantly, the sponsorship of Dow for the Olympics is arranged and done by the International Olympic Committee. It is their decision making process. That is the case. And I don’t criticise their decision making process. So I think it would be tragic if the terrible thing that happened all those years ago over the Union Carbide were to somehow affect Indian participation at the Olympics. I understand of course the pressures on the rest today. But I do think for the two reasons I gave, I think it would be a very sad day.
Karan Thapar:This is I am sure you understand a very emotional as well as a very political issue in India. Let me first of all put to you how the Indian people view it. They say that the settlement that was reached in 1989 was based on the assumption that only 3000 people died and somewhere between 30,000-40,000 were injured. Since then, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has established that over 20,000 died and the numbers injured is well above 2 or 3 hundred thousand. In these circumstances, the Indian view is that the Union Carbide and Dow, as the successor company that inherited its liabilities, has a moral responsibility to pay.
David Cameron:Well I think the point is that of course there are responsibilities for those who were acting for that company at that time. That is absolutely clear. Of course every successor company has a responsibility that it took on at the time. But I think to argue that that somehow overrides what ought to be the Olympics… This is about athletes coming from all over the world to compete and when Dow, which is a reputable company, has come to be a sponsor of the IOC and therefore the Olympics, to conflate those issues I think would be wrong.
Karan Thapar:Let me put to you what the Indians would say in response to what you have just said to me. They would put that for instance in 1999, when Dow acquired Union Carbide, it set aside a sum of 2 billion dollars to settle Carbide’s asbestos liabilities in Texas. They argue why can’t Dow make a similar settlement to take into consideration what’s happened in Bhopal. Not only have tens of thousands died and hundreds of thousands injured but there’s incalculable damage to the environment that has never been catered for.
David Cameron:Well I think that’s a perfectly sensible point to make. And of course, there can continue to be discussions between the parties and Dow Chemicals as this issue continues. But would it be right to escalate that into something that becomes a row about a perfectly reputable international company that is the sponsor of the Olympics? I don’t think it would.
Karan Thapar:Is this not an ideal opportunity to force it out… to recognise responsibility that up till now Dow doesn’t wish to apologise. Because Dow would be embarrassed, this is an opening for people in India to force it out to recognise its responsibility.
David Cameron:Well it’s up to people to make their own decisions, to take their own choices… what I am saying is the British prime minister wanting to see the Olympics be successful. I am wanting to see the Olympics not used for industrial or political or other purposes... that I cannot see a problem with the IOC being sponsored by Dow. I think it followed perfectly reasonable processes. Therefore, I cannot complain about Dow sponsoring the London Olympics and therefore I very much hope that these two issues won’t collide at the Olympics. I don’t see why that should happen. But I can’t tell other people what to do. I can just tell you my own responsibilities as British Prime Minister and my own examination of this issue and I think I have said that position.
Karan Thapar:In the letter that the Indian government has formally written to the IOC, they actually gone one step further. They have challenged the point you have just made that Dow is a reputable company and a suitable sponsor of the Olympics. They point out that to retain Dow as a sponsor would make a mockery of the very ideals that the Olympics stands for.
David Cameron: Even if you take that view, then for the people to take that up with is the IOC. The IOC is above any one… It doesn’t belong to any country or to any government. It is an international organisation to which we… India, Britain and other countries are… as it were supporters and signatories to as it were. So even if you take that view, for the people to take that up with is the IOC, not with the British government and the Olympic Committee in London.
Karan Thapar: Because you are the prime minister of Britain, the argument that the Indian government is attempting to make with the IOC, they say that retaining Dow would be a conflict with the code of ethics of the Olympics and in particular with the integrity code. And I quote to you that integrity code, it says ‘The Olympic parties must not be involved with firms whose reputation, mark that word prime minister, reputation, is inconsistent with the principle set in the Olympic charter’. Surely Dow’s reputation in refusing to recognise the moral responsibility it has inherited from Union Carbide, means it’s not a fitting partner.
David Cameron: Well, I don’t take that view. But that is anyway, it is not view a for me but it’s a view for the International Olympic Committee.
Karan Thapar: As Prime Minister of Britain, are you worried that if Dow is retained as a sponsor, there is a possibility that India might end up boycotting the Olympics?
David Cameron: Well of course I don’t want that to happen. I want Indian athletes to come and compete. I think it is going to be fantastic Olympics this summer 2012, I want them to come. But as I say, my responsibilities are to make sure that the Olympics is properly staged, to make sure that we offer very warm welcome to people. Obviously people have a difficulty with individual Olympic sponsors, I don’t happen to share that view in the way you put it. But people can take that up with the IOC and they have to make their own decisions.
Karan Thapar: Now as you speak to me today hundreds of millions of Indians would be listening to you. What would Indian boycott mean to Britain?
David Cameron: I think it would have to be very sad. Britain and India are old friends and old partners. We very much enjoyed coming to the CWG games in India. We were looking forward to welcoming the Indian athletics here, it would be very sad. India’s got enormous merit to bring to the Olympics. As I said I have felt sympathy for those who were injured and killed in Bhopal. But I would argue even if you take the view, you have just expressed, still the boycott would not be the right action. By all means, take it up with the IOC, make the complaint but boycott would not be the right action. It would be very sad for Indian athletes, for India, for Britain and ofcourse it would be desperately sad. But I can’t tell people to come. As I have said I have fulfilled all my responsibilities. I very much hope that Indian athletes and Indian government would come.
Karan Thapar:Were the Indian government under pressure with lobbies, NGOs or public opinion in the India to boycott, would that affect the relationship? Would that be a souring note?
David Cameron:Well it would be the very sad day because this is going to be a successful global event. We want the world’s best athletes to come and compete in Britain and I think if this was to be caught up in these industrial and political issues, I think it would be very sad for all concerned. But no doubt my focus is going to be making sure we deliver successful Olympics.
Karan Thapar: Prime Minister let’s come to you government’s decision to commit a sharp increase in the University fees this autumn, along with the fact, that now it is going to be more difficult for overseas students to get jobs in the Britain, after they finish their studies. This is going to have an adverse impact on inflow of the Indian students coming to Britain. And in turn it is going to weaken one of the most critical bonds that have tied the two countries together. Does it worry you that you might be loosening the relationship just when you actually wanted to bring two countries closer together?
David Cameron:No I don’t think it will have the adverse effect because there are two important facts we need to verify. The first is if you compare the last years with ten years ago, where ten years ago there were some 14000 Indian students coming to the Britain. Last year there some 39000 students, so it’s been a huge increase which we welcome to the Indian students coming to Britain. The second is, absolutely vital. We make it very clear offer to the students from India and all around the world, which if you can speak English and get a place in British University and you can come and have a visa for that place in University and as you graduate you will be able to work for a period in a graduate job. And I think that is incredible simple open and straight forward offer. Now it may be some people who previously travelled to do courses in facilities that aren’t really that highly regarded, in many cases, haven’t been proper educational courses, may be those people can’t come. But it’s actually a very big, open and generous offer to people who can speak English and who have (*) places and who really want to study and make a contribution.
Karan Thapar: It is interesting that you should mention that last year, 39000 Indian students came to Britain because at the same time over 103,000 went to the US and that’s the real problem. A student that comes to England doesn’t simply get an education, he or she imbibes your culture and lifestyle, many of them turn to look upon England as a second home… You are losing that whole body of…
David Cameron: Ofcourse, if you do the mathematics, America is five times in size, in population, five times the size of Britain and yet according to your figures only taking two thirds of your students.
Karan Thapar: It’s two and half times more students.
David Cameron: Well ok. We are fifth of the population of America and we are taking a third of the students. The key, I think, is actually not just the board numbers of the students, it’s quite clear to me that in Britain for too many years we have had a lot of bogus colleges, offering rather bogus courses to people who want to come to Britain, who mainly want to come to work than to study. What this government is doing, is making sense of the immigration system that has been a bit confused. We are very clear on the student part, we want those students to come but they should be students that are going to proper colleges to do proper courses and afterwards can work for a period as graduates. I think that is a very big and good offer which will further link Indian students and Britain and as you say not just study at our universities, but imbibe the culture, leave with a love of Britain, ‘I want to do business with Britain’, which is exactly I want.
Karan Thapar: But you know it is very interesting you should say that they should leave with a love of Britain. Increasingly because the costs have gone up so phenomenally and remember the new university fees that are going to be almost 300 per cent higher than what they used to be, because of that increasingly, the Indians students are choosing to live in India, perhaps, enrolling in British educational institutions. They may end up getting British degree but their love and affection for the country simply won’t develop.
David Cameron:I think you have to ask the question why we are charging the fees for British Universities? And the reason is we want our universities to be continue to be among the best in the world. And if you want great universities and great libraries, research institutes, and tutors. All the things which is in Cambridge, Oxford, London and Bristol on and other universities are still as good as anything is available in America. But if you want that, that costs money, now where is that money going to come from? Is it going to come from the tax payer who already has to fill a big hole with a big deficit and big debt or should we charge the successful graduates for the successful university education they receive. I think the other countries will look at what we are doing in British Universities fees will say actually that is the right way to ensure you have strong and growing universities in a very competitive world.
Karan Thapar:Your logic is unimpeachable as far as the financing of the Universities goes but the fact is because you becoming so expensive in England, Indian students are going to America, where you get scholarships. You don’t get the same number of scholarships here and as a result, the logic is on your side but the emotional bond and attachment that got formed for generations, when Indians came to your country, is breaking down.
David Cameron:Well we already have good scholarship programmes and I actually announced this week extra scholarships for Indian students as well which I have separately announced and I think there are lot of scholarships available. But the general point I would say to the Indian students watching this programme thinking of where to go to university, I would say ‘come to Britain’ because we have the world’s language and we have some of the best universities any where in the world and we have a scheme to make sure they are gonna go on being the best universities and of course you can go to less expensive universities in other parts of the world but you have to ask yourself, is the degree I am going to get at the end of that going to be as good as from a great British university, that now has a way of funding itself and making sure the quality is as high, as I am sure Indian students would…
Karan Thapar: So in a nutshell what you are saying to Indian students is that, even if the costs go up, in some case it even goes up to 300 per cent, British universities remain the best, ‘pay that and come here because the education you get here is better then anywhere’. Is that the message you are giving?
David Cameron: I am saying good quality costs money, we are being very upfront about how it should be paid. But if you pay that money, you get very good degree and that will stand you in good stead for rest of your life. And as you said, deepen the relationship between Britain and India.
Karan Thapar:You are not worried at all that the economic cost of coming to England might actually over a period of time lessen the bonds that have knitted the countries together?
David Cameron:Well I think the worst thing and this is normally what politicians do, is they stick their head in the sand, they don’t realise that universities are getting more expensive, they don’t think of a way of paying for it. They try to expand university education without finding the money for it and suddenly they will wake up one day and universities in France, in Germany and in other places in the world will have overtaken you. I am determined that is not gonna happen. So this government has taken the difficult decision to say we are going to charge students after they have left for the cost of that education. And I think as a result we would be holding our head up high in a few years because our universities will have a very high quality degree.
Karan Thapar:And you hope that Indian students will recognise that and come even though it is going to cost them more?
David Cameron: I think that Indian students know that quality costs money and they know that there are great universities in Britain and they know Britain is one of the most open and multiracial countries anywhere on earth. You will find people like others who come from every part of India along with the British people who give you a very very warm welcome.
Karan Thapar:David Cameron, a pleasure talking to you.
David Cameron:Thank You.