Some highlights and insights from my India trip which took in meetings in Delhi and Bangalore.
A confident India. I have been coming to India up to 8 times a year since 1999 (and less frequently before then). From roles as a member of the UK India Roundtable advising both PMs on policy, to the Board of UK India Business Council to UK Government’s Dealmaker for India. So you can say some experience in the bilateral relationship.
A More Assertive Confident India
I’ve noticed, as has the world a more self assured confident, less defensive India. Previously what might be put down to ‘the Indians are upset’ now leads to a rapid firm statement if they are ‘upset’. The comments on India purchasing Russian oil or response to the UK Home Secretary’s visa comments are cases on point. They make the point and move on.
This remains as it has for two decades an issue (longer of course). I suspect the Indians move more on visas from seeing British Indian anger on Twitter than anything else.
Look if you’re British Indian, you should have an OCI. Get on with it. My aunt had to cancel her flight – the visa did not come in time.
A delegation of British investors from the Midlands did not get their visas in time and so did not come to India on the trip I was on. The damage is clear. The solutions are clear but also convoluted and intertwined.
The British Deputy High Commissioner to Bangalore had not arrived in time either for similar reasons I understand.
Indian companies are getting more and more globally ambitious. India as a whole is more like Silicon Valley than at any time I have observed. The number of entrepreneurs wishing to solve the world’s biggest problems is astounding. More want to be entrepreneurs and innovators. Given Indian numbers and talent, they will eclipse all other nationalities in the decade.
India is a larger economy than the UK by GDP, but also by population and geography and the latter two mean it needs more capital. It’s impressively stable as an economy but the world does not lend to India in the volume and interest rates it does to the UK and US.
Trust keeps coming up as a word. Not at the entrepreneur level. At the Governmental level. 1971, 1965, colonial mindset keeps coming up. India is closer to the US than in a long time. UK is compared to the French – “the French did this for us” comes up.
They Love Rishi
That really helped who the Prime Minister of the UK is. Lots of friendly banter and fun. And yes, the Kohi Noor came up too. But if that is the height of our differences, then fantastic. Using ethnic minority population in bilateral relations has long been a UK Government way of working but no one expected the PM to be the one at the top! They’ve also moved on from the Truss fiasco.
Wants and Needs
India wants to substitute Russian junk but Western hardware is expensive. It wants the intellectual property. It wants to make domestically. The EU and French are doing that. It’s Make in India initiative is as strong as ever.
The UK needs to boost exports. It wants more market access.
Brexit Did Not Come Up
For the first time in a long time, Brexit did not come up. The UK was for the entrepreneurs I spoke to a staging post into EU and US.
So how do we build closer relations? That was the questions posed to me by Prime Minister Blair when I was appointed to the UK India Roundtable.
Defence collaboration is one key place. What India wants is clear. What the UK is willing and able to deliver is more complicated.
Visas – as I said, reset the relationship on this. Unravel it. UK companies want to invest, want to get out there, but if their visas don’t come through, it’s lose-lose.
Am I optimistic. Well I am optimistic that India has close Western relations. UK is in the mix. Yes, I’d prefer it was in the lead. In many areas it is. And many of us are working to make those relations closer.