On Saturday, as the first ever European Regional ‘Overseas Indians Day’ conference celebrating the 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin drew to a close in Westminster, a new prospect opened for Britain to be the partner of choice in the fast paced Indian dream. When the Indian foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, called on the United Kingdom to come and ‘Make in India’ and be part of the Indian growth story, the Foreign Secretary responded that the UK is keen to participate in India’s long term economic success.
The new, centre-right Modi government has ambitious plans to build 100 new cities to accommodate an increasingly socially mobile population, all of whom are striving to compete, achieve and create wealth. Traditionally, socialist commentators have looked upon the enormous and growing Indian population as a burden and a drag on economic development. By contrast, the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj says that her government’s vision is to create an economy that provides “a job for every hand, water for every field and food for every stomach”.
After a decade of decay under the socialist Congress-led coalition government, it is Modi’s BJP government that has been entrusted with the largest mandate and parliamentary majority in three decades to come in to set things right. They intend to deal with the socialist carnage of chronically high inflation, high unemployment and high taxation so that the India story can get back-on-track and its people can continue to lift themselves out of poverty.
As India begins to shine again, the whole world is knocking at the door, and nations that are determined to dream the Indian dream are already queuing up at the South Block in New Delhi. Japan is already India’s fourth largest investor and last month pledged to double its investments to a total of $35 billion over the next five years. China has agreed to invest $20 billion in helping upgrade Indian railway stations, building high speed rail links and setting up industrial parks in Gujarat and Maharashtra.
With such immense interest amongst global investors and record-breaking confidence in the Bombay Stock Exchange, Britain is competing for an ever decreasing slice of an ever growing Indian Alphonso mango cake. So far, we have had a lot of talk with offers of penurious £1 billon credit lines to British firms wanting to help build roads, railways and infrastructure - while projected total spending on infrastructure over the next five years will be around $1 trillion.
Having received more than 212 million votes, Modi knows the economic, development and political stakes could not be any higher. That is why he has promised to deliver, and he is delivering fast. Within just five months of coming to power, India has seen its Wholesale Price Index inflation rate fall to a five year low of 2.38 per cent in September, an interest rate cut is inevitable and foreign exchange reserves are up again to $312 billion. India is on the move and this time it is waiting for no one.
The task ahead is of biblical proportions, with over 500 million people needing training by 2022 in the world’s largest English speaking nation as they seek to join the estimated 547 million strong middle-class by 2025, which will want to fill the seats of the 430 new Airbus planes ordered by India’s biggest airline – IndiGo totalling around $40 billion.
However, it is not all about corporate investment and government credit lines. Addressing a record crowd of around 20,000 Indian Americans in Madison Square Gardens last month in New York, Modi requested the 2.8 million Indian Americans to come and ‘Make in India’, contribute to the project to clean up the river Ganges and to help enable his vision to see every Indian having a place to call home by 2022.
Britain risks missing the new high speed train to Ahmedabad while it spends time dilly-dallying thinking about sailing back to the Gateway of India in Mumbai, from which it left in 1947. With his three visits, including the biggest British business delegation in history, there is no doubt of David Cameron’s commitment to building a special relationship with India. However, in this bold new era where the whole world is freely competing to invest, historical friendship, a common language and a shared love of curry is not going to be enough.
What is needed of Britain is to claim an undeniable stake in this ‘Modi-fied’ Indian dream. We have world-beating expertise to satisfy the hunger of India’s next generation for a high-quality English education, help build those next 100 smart cities and better feed India’s people through improved preservation and distribution of food stocks.
However France, Japan and Germany also offer the same expertise. Yet they lack the advantage of the English language and, more importantly, people-to-people contact. With 1.5 million Britons of Indian origin, the United Kingdom must leverage this unique advantage to let the British Indian diaspora lead the charge. After all, British Indians know India best – and India knows them.
There are endless possibilities. British Indian businesses could help to identify trustworthy customers, target viable markets and provide reliable points of contact in India. Wealthy British Indians could ‘adopt’ Indian villages and helping their development through corporate social action in partnership with UK businesses. Young British students could travel to India to study IT at high quality establishments such as the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, which has produced brilliant minds such as Google’s senior vice president, Sunder Pichai, and Arun Sarin, the former chairman of Vodafone.
It is people, business and authentic, world-beating British ideas that are going to enable Britain to not only ‘Make in India’ but to do so better than anyone else. We can compete with and beat the rest of the world in establishing a ‘New-Old’ special relationship with India. A friendship based on joint defence collaboration, a shared economic vision and unrivalled people-to-people cultural exchange rather than just trade alone. A friendship that will last long-term, not just until the next tender for 126 multi-role fighter jets.
The statue of Mahatma Gandhi will be unveiled in Parliament Square in January 2015. As the father of the world’s greatest democracy looks out over the home of the world’s oldest democracy, let’s rid ourselves of the Brussels red tape which has needlessly delayed free trade with India, let’s show belligerent Barroso that it is the EU which will have ‘marginal relevance’ in global affairs as the United Kingdom and India move forward. Let’s look east, beyond the European Union to the Indian Union.