East, West 'iron ladies' shed armor for better Anglo-Indian relations

The world's two leading lady prime ministers -- Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain and Indira Gandhi of India -- appear satisfied that they have returned relations between their countries to a friendly footing.

The prospects for Mrs. Gandhi's visit here did not seem promising at the outset.

Mrs. Thatcher disliked Mrs. Gandhi's apparent friendliness toward the Soviet Union. And Mrs. Gandhi resented the new nationality bill which seemed to threaten the rights of many thousands of Indian settlers in Britain.

This time, the armory of the ''iron ladies'' of East and West was kept hidden under velvet gloves.

India and Britain have agreed to cooperate more closely on economic aid. The Indian Air Force is showing high interest in the British-built Jaguar fighter.

A row over an Indian cricket team that is soon to pay a visit to Britain appears to have been defused.

The amount of official effort put into improving relations was immense. Culture was brought to the aid of diplomacy.

Mrs. Gandhi's first engagement was to open a six-month festival of Indian culture here. She and Mrs. Thatcher say that the festival will be a symbol and an encouragement of better relations between the two countries.

Those relations have been unhappy of late. Indian settlers tend to be hard-working and ambitious. These qualities have won them work over a wide front. But this has fanned envy in some Britons whose jobs have disappeared in the prevailing recession.

One of the festival's aim is to point out to Britons that India has a colorful culture.

The difficulty over India's cricket tour this season arose from a decision by a group of English cricketers to travel to South Africa in defiance of antiapartheid bans. Mrs. Gandhi was pleased to learn before her departure for London that the cricketers had been banned from playing for England for three years.

On some political issues Mrs. Thatcher and Mrs. Gandhi had to gloss over their differences. The Soviet presence in Afghanistan, Vietnam's occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia), and the US arms sales to Pakistan found them far apart. But, according to British officials, there was no hostility.

As Mrs. Gandhi headed for home, the small party of officials in her retinue declared that a new era had opened in India's relations with Britain. Mrs. Thatcher's advisers enthusiastically endorsed this view.

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