David Cameron has said the UK can forge one of “the great partnerships of the 21st Century” with India, as he arrived in Mumbai to begin a three-day visit.
With business the main focus, he is leading what Downing Street says is the largest trade delegation taken on an overseas trip by a UK prime minister.
Those represented include BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, and London Underground.
Meanwhile, Mr Cameron has indicated the UK’s visa process could be made easier for Indian business people.
Speaking at a question-and-answer-session at Unilever headquarters in Mumbai, the first stop on his trip, he told the audience: “India’s rise is going to be one of the great phenomena of this century and it is incredibly impressive to see.
“Britain wants to be your partner of choice. We’ve only just started on the sort of partnership that we could build. As far as I’m concerned, the sky is the limit.”
Mr Cameron promised up to £1m to help fund a feasibility study into using British expertise to develop a “business corridor” between Mumbai and Bangalore.
“I’m really excited about this project,” he said. “It’s an ambitious vision which could truly be a partnership for the next generation.
“It would unleash India’s potential along the 1,000 kilometres from Mumbai to Bangalore, transforming lives and putting British businesses in prime position to secure valuable commercial deals.”
He added the project encapsulated “the spirit of this visit” and would “mark a new chapter in the UK-India economic relationship”.
Among the businessmen joining Mr Cameron on the trip is the chief executive of the English Premier League, Richard Scudamore, who told the BBC that football was the fastest growing sport in India.
He said interest in the league had been growing exponentially.
“Ten years ago it was very small, and it’s grown and we’ve just concluded our deals for the next three years, and we’ve had exponential growth here both in audience and revenue terms, so it’s an increasingly important market for us.”
Mr Scudamore added that the Premier League runs a skills and coaching initiative in India, in conjunction with the British Council, to further Indian interest in the sport.
“There’s an awful lot going on on the ground to build soccer interest here,” he added.
Another of the trip’s aims is to address controversy over the recent toughening of UK visa rules.
Mr Cameron told an audience there was no limit on the number of Indian students that could come to British universities, so long as they had an English language qualification and a place to study.
In a round of TV interviews in Mumbai, Mr Cameron said Britain welcomed Indian university students.
“We want to make sure that we are attracting… the best and the brightest,” he said.
“And in terms of our visa operation here in India, it is the biggest one we have anywhere in the world. Nine out of 10 of those who apply for a visa get one.”
The prime minister also spoke of making Britain’s visa system simpler for Indian businesses.
“We are introducing today a same-day visa service for business people who want to come to Britain for linking up their businesses for trade and other things like that,” he said.
In an interview just ahead of the trip with the Hindustan Times, he had stressed how there was a “warm welcome” for those who wanted to make a “positive contribution” to the UK.
Later on Monday, Mr Cameron visited a memorial to the 16 Indian police officers killed during the terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008.
The prime minister laid a wreath in respect and listened as an honour guard played the Last Post.
During what is Mr Cameron’s second trip to India as prime minister, he is due to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee.
He also appears to be hoping for some culinary distractions. Asked during a Q&A session which Indian dishes he was hoping to sample, he replied that it would be a Kerala fish curry – “to see if it compares to my wife’s”.