Britain must adjust to new relationship with India

July 26, 2010

INDIA-Vikas Pota, Author of India Inc: How India’s Top Ten Entrepreneurs Are Winning Globally. The views expressed are his own. -

Last week, on his first Prime Ministerial visit to the United States, David Cameron conceded that Britain was the “junior partner” in the special relationship. Next week, I fear that at the end of the much anticipated visit to India, he may yet again, have to concede that Britain is the junior partner in this ever increasing important relationship.

I attended an event some years ago in which the then Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) — Digby Jones — evangelised the need for UK Plc to embrace India, not for nostalgic or historic reasons, but to secure their survival. He explained “in the fullness of time, the past 250 years will be seen as a mere blip, an anomaly, in which India was subjugated. The future belongs to a resurgent India”.

It’s difficult to argue otherwise, just take a look at some of the statistics that stand out:

•    Almost 25 percent of the world workforce will reside in India within the next 15 years. The average age of its citizens will be a youthful 29 in 2020, whereas in Western Europe the average stands at 45. India’s demographic profile provides a huge opportunity for her in the next century.

•    India has a middle class larger than the entire population of the US — some 300 million residents, armed with a disposable income and looking for new avenues to spend their cash. The spectacular thing is that India’s middle class isn’t confined to its big cities or metros as they refer to them, but to far flung corners of the country in what are second and third tier cities, representing new markets — the Holy Grail as far as some of the world’s biggest fast moving consumer goods companies are concerned.

•    Just today, I read a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter about how the Indian Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council has forecast GDP growth at 8.5 percent this year and nine percent next year. Now, compare that with all the talk of Britain having avoided a double dip recession as a result of the growth in our economy at a measly 1.1 percent.

That David Cameron understands the need to forge a stronger relationship with India is not in question. He’s made all the right noises, starting with a pro–India election manifesto culminating in the Queen highlighting her government’s desire to cosy up to the sub-continent in her first speech in the coalition era. He’s packed this visit with an unprecedented number of Cabinet Ministers signalling his intent on developing a wide-ranging cross departmental affair with India.

But the true question on the minds of crystal ball watchers, like me, is to work out whether this visit will fundamentally change the way we work with India or whether it’s just about style, something Cameron’s been accused of frequently.

In either case, in true Indian fashion, Cameron will be welcomed with open arms; and his eagerness to strengthen the bilateral relationship will be warmly reciprocated. Howeve securing the future prosperity of British jobs and industry will be on India’s terms, as the senior partner, unlike those set by the East India company some 250 years ago.

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