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Top British ministers woo India under Modi

Britain's finance minister announced a US$428 million deal with India's military on Monday after arriving in the country to seek stronger trade and investment ties with new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

MUMBAI: Britain's finance minister announced a US$428 million deal with India's military on Monday after arriving in the country to seek stronger trade and investment ties with new Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

George Osborne and Foreign Secretary William Hague landed in Mumbai for the two-day visit to drum up business for Britain, the latest foreign government delegation rushing to court Modi following his victory in May.

Osborne announced the completion of a £250 million (US$428 million) deal for multinational group MBDA headquartered in London to supply weapons to the Indian Air Force, creating "hundreds of jobs" in Britain.

"India is embarking on an exciting journey of reform under your new government," Osborne told business leaders in India's financial hub.

"I believe there to be no more reliable companion in that journey than the United Kingdom."

The ministers' visit, which takes them to New Delhi later on Monday, is expected to focus on forging deeper diplomatic and economic ties including in defence and infrastructure.

Reform-minded Modi has raised hopes for foreign investors with his pledges to open up India's stumbling economy, spur investment and kickstart major infrastructure projects stalled under the previous government.

Osborne said he could "feel the buzz in the air" following Modi's landslide victory at elections that ended 10 years of left-leaning Congress party rule.

"The excitement here is matched by new confidence among international investors abroad in the future of the Indian economy," he said.

European governments and the United States boycotted Modi for a decade over deadly religious riots in 2002 while he was running his home state of Gujarat.

But they are now redoubling their efforts to make up for lost time, with Russia's deputy prime minister, the French foreign minister and US Senator John McCain also visiting in recent weeks.

The British pair are expected to hold talks with Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley among others on Tuesday before meeting Modi.

Britain is holding out hope that a stalled deal worth at least US$12 billion for France to supply fighter jets to India could fall through, opening the door for the Eurofighter jet which is partly made in Britain.

In Mumbai, Osborne announced that Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla will invest £100 million (US$171 million) in drugs research in Britain, while auto maker Mahindra and Mahindra will invest £20 million (US$34 million) in electric car development.

"Indian businesses are huge investors in the UK. I want more of that investment," Osborne said.

He expressed Britain's commitment to developing Indian infrastructure projects such as the proposed Bangalore-Mumbai economic corridor, as well as helping to develop new Indian bond markets and financial services.

Hague, who announced an increase in scholarships and grants for Indians wanting to study in Britain, said the new government's mandate had "transformative potential" for India.

He called for a closer bilateral relationship in foreign policy amid "signs the world is becoming systemically less predictable and less stable".

Britain believes it is time for India's political, economic and cultural clout to be "more strongly felt" in world affairs, Hague added.

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