Last time DC went to India, I commented on the BBC that he may as well concede that we were the junior partner in that relationship as well, just as he had referred to relations with our American cousins who he had visited immediately prior to India.
This time things are a little different. Let me explain.
Last time DC visited it was in the immediate wake of forming the coalition. This time, I would suggest that this visit is focused on creating opportunities that are specific to the UK electoral calendar – electioneering has started!
The same can also be said of India and her politics. With Narendra Modi’s success at the polls, the only real discussion taking place is whether he will be the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate. Electioneering in India has also begun as polls are due in 2014.
Such a cycle can play a major role in how these visits are organised. What do you think the major goals of this visit should be? How should DC’s success be measured? Volume of commercial deals done, parity provided to the Opposition, agreements on counter security… ? Interested in your opinions. Leave a comment
Such is the faith of people in India that problems, challenges, opportunities, and any successes are often attributed to a divine force – the almighty. I remember a raging argument with my mother when I was a child, in which she basically justified her in-action by citing the same – “if it’s meant to be…”, which I’ve always seen as a cop-out as she avoided taking responsibility for an action.
Well, the reason I mention this is that having participated in the World Economic Forum’s India Summit in Mumbai earlier this week, India’s political & business leadership reminded me of the raging argument between my mother and me. Just that in this case, India’s much celebrated captains of industry became my mum for two days.
The problem is that everyone now recognises that the challenges India faces are possibly too big to overcome. The shine has truly come off. The penny’s dropped and they don’t know what to do. So they’re happy just to bumble on and see what happens (if it’s meant to be…)
Such was the elation of the mid 2000’s, that she was pleased to have been invited to the G20, and other international platforms, it seems that they’ve forgotten that if they desire global recognition, they need to offer solutions that fix problems.
Take, for example, the construction industry which itself will see an investment of a trillion dollars over the next ten years, but where are the skilled tradesman? In a similar fashion, take any profession and you arrive at the same problem.
India’s much talked of demographic dividend stands to turn into the exact opposite if practical solutions are not found. It’s far too easy to say that the private sector needs to play a role by harnessing the opportunity. India’s government needs to follow through by creating a favourable policy environment, else… the risks to her growth are simply too significant to consider.
I’m quite a positive guy, but this Summit knocked the stuffing out of me.
Corruption, a bloated bureaucracy, a ego, all stand in the path of progress. That’s what the India Summit confirmed in my mind.
There’s been three blasts in Mumbai, with about 10 people dead. One of the bombs was planted in a meter box. The fact that there’s been a series of blasts, naturally shows this is a planned activity. How much more can Mumbai handle?
Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer turned politician – Imran Khan – captured my attention today, maybe, for the first time. Perhaps, it was to do with where I was stood whilst reading my Twitter timeline, which included her musings. Let me explain. Her tweets read:
“Helping my boy with his GCSE choices- Sciences (Biology, physics, chemistry) are obligatory. History and geography are not.”
“Ofsted found that England is the only country in Europe where children can stop studying history at the age of 13. #harrumph”
“Last year more than 100 state schools did not enter a single candidate for GCSE history.”
I was reading this whilst stood in the spring sun at the top of Constitution Hill, near Buckingham Palace, where the Commonwealth Memorial Gates were erected nine years ago to pay tribute to the sacrifices of volunteer soldiers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and other Commonwealth countries.
Having lived in London for many years, I had walked and driven past these Memorial Gates many times, but never once had I stopped to take a closer look. Baroness Flather, who worked tirelessly in making sure this memorial was erected explained:
“It took over fifty years after World War Two ended to build a lasting memorial to honour the five million men and women from the Commonwealth nations who volunteered as part of the British Empire in both world wars.
As someone who’s clear about his identity being British, a sense of sadness swept across my face when I heard the Gurkha bugler play the Last Post whilst reading Jemima Khan’s tweets on the uptake of the History GCSE.
I’d like my kids to learn, along with the oft-narrated stories about the Great Wars to learn about the sacrifices made by my ancestors, without which we may not be enjoying the lives we lead today, which leads to the larger point that if children don’t understand any history, how can they comprehend the world?
Please make a point of visiting the Memorial Gates on your next visit to London. You can find out more here: http://www.mgtrust.org/
I, like almost everyone I talk to, am bothered about the state of affairs regarding education & skills. I’m not referring to the political agenda in England revolving around free schools, the promotion of academy status for schools, the education maintenance allowance, university fees or any such subject that’s being debated in our political media; rather I’m referring to the injustice of the 60million or so children who’ve never set their eyes on a school building. More so, I get even more vexed when I hear about the millions of children who do attend a school, but leave without learning anything! How comes that never comes up in our media?
The reason I mention this, is recently, I was fortunate to have met with Madhav Chavan, who in the mid-90s founded a NGO in India called Pratham. Later that evening, I attended a dinner hosted by their UK chapter where he laid out the challenge.
His argument was simple. One of the main reasons children fail in the Indian schooling system is because they lack basic literacy skills – they can’t read or write. As a result of this realization, Pratham’s dedicated itself to reaching the absolute bottom (of the famous Indian) pyramid to equip those children (and now adults) with these skills.
To assist their work, one the most valuable things that Pratham instituted and conducts with rigour is a national survey, called ASER, which has now become the de-facto study on education in India, as approx 720,000 people in 16,000 villages across the sub-continent are surveyed.
Chavan highlighted some of the following statistics, which made me sit up and think (read: pull my hair out):
• 97% of children in India are enrolled in a school – emphasis is on enrolled. They don’t necessarily attend or sit exams.
• After four years of learning, in class 5, between 40 – 50% of children can’t read or can’t write.
• In rural India (which is the majority of India), after four years of schooling, in class 5, 60% of children fail to solve a simple division sum.
If this is the case, regardless of where we live, we all need to worry.
If a quarter of the world’s work force is expected to reside in India within the next 15 years, where are all the skilled workers going to come from? Yes, India has a large, and young population that could be a massive advantage in its ascendancy to super-power status, but there’s simply no hiding from these facts.
Right now, it’d be quite easy to take a pot-shot at the role of government, but as Chavan explained, India is a very complex country, where there is a long term commitment in fixing this problem. I assume the challenge comes in dealing with the situation here & now – which if you’ve ever visited India is a challenge in most spheres of life.
As is so true, he explained that where good leadership exists, you find change. For example, some progressive state governments do recognise the huge hurdle that exists and are doing something about this. Bihar is a good example. It has 10 million illiterate adults, and to institute a programme to equip them with “employment ready” skills will require an army of volunteers, which Pratham is trying to marshal with the support of Nitish Kumar, their Chief Minister.
Similarly, Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, realizes as a result of ASER data on his state that in order to translate his success in attracting massive investment commitments he needs a skilled and educated workforce. He’s now mandated his Ministerial team to visit schools to assess for themselves the problems in their system.
If you read my first post in January 2011, you’ll see that I took my kids to a Pratham school in Mumbai. The thing that struck me was that Pratham’s model works because it’s so simple. Because it’s low-cost. Because they’re at ground level. But more importantly, because they can prove their method works.
At the dinner later that day, surrounded by ultra successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and city professionals, Chavan conveyed his message with great effectiveness. His audience were positively agitated and somewhat pissed off at the situation in their beloved motherland. In typical fashion, wanting to put the world right several suggestions were offered by those assembled, but Chavan put it all in perspective, at least for me. He explained: in a country where almost 75% of the population defecates in the open, you need solutions that take into cognizance the reality of India, here and now, and build on them rather than building clouds in the sky.
He’s right. You & I know it. By offering our support to the likes of Pratham, we’ll be doing something about the challenges facing our future generations.
Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee met with Congress insiders to begin unveiling his thinking on this year’s Budget, which is expected later this month. His headaches include inflation, a current account deficit, high import duties, and importantly how best to increase government revenues.
So, before the big day, I’m asking all of you what to expect in this year’s Budget?
People keep on talking about India’s demographic dividend; will the septuagenarian Finance Minister understand what’s required to ensure that the future is prosperous for this massively important population bracket. A budget for the young, perhaps?
Will he use the opportunity to guarantee market reforms that enable foreign firms get a larger piece of the action? Will India Inc exert its influence to ensure home company advantage?
What policies is he going to put in place that will help India break the 10% GDP growth rate, that India desires? Education, Employability, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship are critical drivers to achieve this. What’s he thinking on these?
If you have any idea on the above, or on the forthcoming budget, leave your comments below.
Having just visited Beijing, I’m astounded with what they achieved as a result of the Olympics. In the same breath, I’m equally astounded with the manner in which the Indian Government has handled the preparations for the Commonwealth Games, which are due to open in the first week of October.
There’s been public outrage in Delhi with politicians being accused of corrupt practices, bad administration, and ultimately with squandering the great image it’s built up globally on the back of her economic prowess.
I’m told that Delhi still resembles a construction site, with massive traffic problems, and air pollution that’d make you want to be elsewhere, no surprise that some of the world’s biggest athletes, like Usain Bolt, have decided to stay away.
Indians are trying to salvage the situation, but I fear the damage has already been done. Suresh Kalmadi, the main organizer is reported to have said that “it’ll be alright on the night”. But really, is this the attitude to take when you’ve used hundreds of millions to deliver an event that we’ll most probably want to forget. Wouldn’t it have been better just to commit the money to tackling poverty, which blights India so badly?
If you look at this politically, cast your minds to the building of our Millennium Dome, in which Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson came under major criticism for what as described as a ‘white elephant’. Despite the monetary figure being so much lesser than what’s being spent on these Games in Delhi, they nearly lost their jobs.
If political conventions straddled continents, I’m sure Manmohan Singh’s head would ultimately roll, but as we’re taking about India, I can’t think of a more appropriate phrase than that devised by her tourism department for promote India – the Commonwealth Games are taking definitely taking place in“Incredible India’.
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again.
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
And so we have to labour and to work, and work hard, to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for anyone of them to imagine that it can live apart.
Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.
To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we make an appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.
The appointed day has come – the day appointed by destiny – and India stands forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent. The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges we have so often taken. Yet the turning point is past, and history begins anew for us, the history which we shall live and act and others will write about.
It is a fateful moment for us in India, for all Asia and for the world. A new star rises, the star of freedom in the east, a new hope comes into being, a vision long cherished materialises. May the star never set and that hope never be betrayed!
We rejoice in that freedom, even though clouds surround us, and many of our people are sorrow-stricken and difficult problems encompass us. But freedom brings responsibilities and burdens and we have to face them in the spirit of a free and disciplined people.
On this day our first thoughts go to the architect of this freedom, the father of our nation, who, embodying the old spirit of India, held aloft the torch of freedom and lighted up the darkness that surrounded us.
We have often been unworthy followers of his and have strayed from his message, but not only we but succeeding generations will remember this message and bear the imprint in their hearts of this great son of India, magnificent in his faith and strength and courage and humility. We shall never allow that torch of freedom to be blown out, however high the wind or stormy the tempest.
Our next thoughts must be of the unknown volunteers and soldiers of freedom who, without praise or reward, have served India even unto death.
We think also of our brothers and sisters who have been cut off from us by political boundaries and who unhappily cannot share at present in the freedom that has come. They are of us and will remain of us whatever may happen, and we shall be sharers in their good and ill fortune alike.
The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity to the common man, to the peasants and workers of India; to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman.
We have hard work ahead. There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be.
We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.
To the nations and peoples of the world we send greetings and pledge ourselves to cooperate with them in furthering peace, freedom and democracy.
And to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind [Victory to India].
With his admission last week that Britain plays second fiddle to America, David Cameron has an opportunity to get one over Barack Obama during his much trumpeted first Prime Ministerial visit to India.
That Britain is keen to forge a more strategic relationship with India is not in question. Who wouldn’t? The India of even ten years ago is a much different place to one that I see every time I visit. Whether we’re talking of the new Delhi airport, the Worli flyover in Mumbai, or the ever increasing number of middle class consumers armed with cash, there’s no doubt that India’s on the rise.
Facts and statistics aside, India’s influence needn’t be solely defined by economics. In real, I believe the biggest influence she can have rests in the realm of global politics.
Under Tony Blair, the British Government lead the charge to bring India to the top table. As cheerleader, Blair did the unthinkable; he changed the way India was talked about by stating his support for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council for India. Immediately, you saw India being invited to G8 meetings, where the world’s richest nations got together to decide the future course of global events. Like a new student in an old school, India observed attentively and said little.
However, as time has progressed; and as events have benefited India, Manmohan Singh is no longer the new student. He has an edge over Obama and Cameron. His experience in dealing with global finance and economics is proving to be a major strength for India. Not only is India at the top table, but it’s bringing its experience to bear by offering solutions to global problems, like it has with the debate around the imposition of a global bank levy.
But, what I believe is that Manmohan Singh has a lot to gain from this visit. Whilst it cannot openly speak of American double standards, it can certainly use this visit to flesh out some arguments that Cameron may wish to take the lead on.
With the media debate and focus on the release of the Lockerbie bomber during Cameron’s first official visit to the U.S., Singh would do well to point out the double standards being applied. He could rightly claim that Pakistan ought to have the same treatment as Libya, after all there’s compelling evidence that both states were complicit in terrorist outrages in Lockerbie and Mumbai. Do Indian lives matter less to America?
In a similar manner, Cameron ought to take the opportunity to raise the burning issue of Bhopal, especially in the light of the U.S. attitude on BP. The EU, in the past two weeks, has offered to fund a complete survey to assess what needs to be done to make the site safe, which Singh seems reluctant to take up. By making the offer during their forthcoming talks, Cameron would neatly be making the point that America cannot be allowed to berate a UK multinational without dealing with Dow Chemicals over Bhopal.
Whilst everyone speaks of the burgeoning trade and investment relationship, the real champion of the enhanced relationship in this coalition government, surprisingly, isn’t the British Business Secretary but the new Foreign Secretary William Hague, who understands that India’s potential lies in her engagement on multilateral political issues.
I’m sure India will receive Cameron in the only way it knows, with warmth, friendship, and mutual admiration, but he needs to keep in mind that he’s going to be judged on substance, and not style – something he’s often criticised of favouring. This visit offers a defining opportunity, the type that comes along once in a while. Let’s hope David Cameron seizes the moment.
Attended a dinner event organised by the Indian High Commission in which the President was unveiled to an audience largely comprising leading members of the Indian diaspora.
Having watched the politicking from afar when she was nominated by Sonia Gandhi for this post, I arrived at the venue as a cynic of the Indian system, but quite uncharacteristcally left impressed, and almost inspired.
Impressed – for the simple reason that she kept her speech to the point and brief. More importantly she demonstrated her intelligence by avoiding a trap that was set for her – with all the bigwigs at this bash, she chose her words carefully and decided not to single out a leading Peer of the Lords, which is par for the course – not even Lord Paul (a die-hard Congress supporter) – or even any of the MPs who attended, but she focused on the man of the moment – Professor Venkatraman Ramakrishnan – the genius who was awarded the Nobel in Chemistry this year.
Inspired – because I think the President understood that her’s was a ceremonial role. Yes, we know that she can impose President’s rule, but she came across as a genteel and warm lady. Whether India deserves such a figure or someone like APJ Abdul Kalam is a matter for them, but from the dragoness I was expecting as a result of adverse media coverage, I have to say, she carried herself well.
Anyway, enough of my musings. Heavy day tomorrow (Thursday) – the Commonwealth Games handover at Buckingham Palace, followed by the UKIBC Summit and then the dinner. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that its as good as last years. Shall report back tomorrow 🙂