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Top British ministers begin India visit to woo Narendra Modi


British Foreign Secretary William Hague (L) and Chancellor of Exchequer George Osborne arrive to meet Indian business leaders in Mumbai on July 7, 2014. The British ministers are on a three-day visit to India. Photo - AFP

Mumbai: Two of Britain's most senior ministers arrived in India on Monday to seek stronger trade and investment links with the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Foreign Secretary William Hague and Finance Minister George Osborne landed in the financial capital Mumbai to start their two-day visit, which is expected to focus on forging deeper defence, infrastructure and other ties between the two countries.

"The excitement here is matched by new confidence among international investors abroad in the future of the Indian economy," Osborne was set to tell business leaders in Mumbai later Monday, according to speech excerpts released by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"It is a measure of the ambition and drive and pace of the new government of Prime Minister Modi, that this complete turnaround in sentiment about the Indian economy has been achieved in just seven short weeks since that stunning election victory."

The pair's visit follows close on the heels of the French foreign minister, as Western governments rush to court Modi and his right-wing team following their landslide victory in May.

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.

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 and US Senator John McCain also visiting in recent weeks.

Osborne is set to announce in his speech that Indian pharmaceutical company Cipla will invest up to £100 million ($171 million) in drugs research in Britain, while auto maker Mahindra and Mahindra will invest $34 million in electric car development in Britain.

After visiting Mumbai, Osborne and Hague will travel to New Delhi to hold talks on Tuesday with Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley among others, before meeting Modi.

The pair said they wanted British companies to win contracts to help build 100 new cities pledged by Modi in his election manifesto, and to develop new roads, railways and ports.

"We want... our defence and aerospace companies to help bring India more cutting-edge technology, skills and jobs," they wrote in the Times of India newspaper Monday.

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