IPL in England

With the BCCI’s decision of shifting the IPL out of India, one would think that the chances of the Congress Party returning to office are diminished as a result of this one decision. Anything other than this is simply not comprehensible for the simple reason that cricket is religion in India. Or so it would seem..

IPL Commissioner – Lalit Modi’s ability to articulate and convey key messages has to be applauded, as I believe he recognised and stemmed any criticism by positioning the general election as being of paramount priority to India and for once, cricket needed to come second! In a land in which cricket is religion and Sachin Tendulkar is God, Lalit Modi’s played his master innings by rolling out personalities like Sachin and Shah Rukh Khan to reinforce his messages as he realises that the last thing he or the IPL wants to be accused of is being ‘anti-national’.

As we’re in an election cycle, It goes without saying that the Opposition is using this opportunity to paint the Congress as being soft on security matters; and the Congress realising that in a country where cricket is taken so seriously, it needed to get its rebuttals in quickly.

So, would the IPL work in England?

There’s no doubt that the ECB, like every other cricketing nation, was green with envy with what they witnessed last year in India. By rolling out the red carpet to the BCCI, the ECB would undoubtedly regain a central role in international cricket, and if it plays its cards well, would suggest that the ‘Indian’ is substituted by ‘International’ in the title of the competition.

With regards to the logic of shifting to England, Sachin was right in saying that whilst the Indian public wouldn’t have the same experience as last time, the larger Indian diaspora living in the UK would come out to support their teams, as they do everytime India tours here.

Even with our unpredictable weather, Easter weekend and May Bank holiday coming in between, I believe that having it here is for the greater good of the game.

Briefing on Indian Elections

Following from the briefing that we’d organised yesterday evening at the House of Commons on the upcoming Indian elections, our inbox has been swamped with requests for the presentation made by Yashwant Deshmukh – who’s one of India’s top pollsters. Whilst we’re probably more immersed than others in keeping on eye on the machinations of Indian politics, I found the insights provided by the panelists and also some of the audience very logical and agreed with their analysis.

In particular, I felt that Lord Desai, who’s advised several Indian Prime Ministers, and clearly, has the inside track on politics, was exceptional in his comments. Despite the pro-Congress Party perception that people have of him, I felt he was very balanced and gave the Congress as hard a time as the BJP. He narrated a story to me of when he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Sanman Award from Prime Minister Vajpayee and asked why, depite the stinging criticism of the NDA and of the BJP was he being awarded the honour. Vajpayee, in his response, said something to the effect of: “We take heart in the fact that you’re equally critical of the Congress”. ūüôā

What Desai explained was that he expected the Congress to make it back and cited examples such as of the confidence that the Congress has shown through the very conservative interim budget a few weeks ago. He said that the lack of throwaway gestures and sops are a clear sign of their thinking. In addition, what I thought was a very personal insight, was his admiration for Sonia Gandhi’s long term strategic thinking – for example, her placement of Naveen Chawla (Chief Election Commissioner) and Pratibha Singh (President) in their current roles to coincide with the probable dates of the election and therefore strengthening her ability to fix the result, if required. I’m lead to believe that such moves are par-for-the-course across the political divide, but are less well thought through or executed.

Yashwant Deshmukh’s clear view was that he forsees a situation in which a minority party like Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party could stake their claim to high office with the support of either principal party. What was interesting was that he termed the upcoming election as a ‘semi-final’ for the main event in 2012, in which he expects the contest to be between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi.

I’ve placed his presentation for on our company website for you to download – www.saffronchase.com – let me have your views. Do you agree with his analysis?

The really interesting thing about the event was that apart from the panelists, there were several individuals in the audience who have been offered seats in the Indian parliament, or are involved in politics in India but make London their base. Such as, a past Mumbai region Organising Secretary for the NSUI; which is the Congress affiliated student body; a eminent businessperson who is regularly consulted by the Samajwadi Party and the Congress on various issues; a business magnate who’s been offered a party position in Delhi, a lawyer with equations with the gen-next of Indian politics etc etc.

In summary, all panelists agreed that in the next election, we’re going to see an overwhelming influence by regional parties, which may result in a minority government that is kept alive with the support of the Congress and will fall within two years.

On the foreign direct investment / commerce front, what was was clear was that there would be no rolling back of policy decisions, but you couldn’t guarantee the fast-tracking of initiatives such as the lifting of the caps in the financial services, retail sector and others. All agreed that they saw such decisions at a standstill for the next few years.

We’re organising a visit for those interested to India at election time to soak up some of the atmosphere by attending mammoth rallies (100,000 people minimum), and to see for ourselves the key issues that candidates face in their constituencies. We received great interest from the audience, please let me know if you’re interested in joining our delegation. We hope to take some UK parliamentarians, businesses, journalists and others to witness the largest democratic exercise conducted on the face of this planet.

Who's going to be the next Indian PM?

With India on the verge of general elections, I thought it may be useful to look into my crystal ball to find out who may become India’s next Prime Minister. In most democracies, elections come down to a couple of major political parties, but, as with everything in India, it’s not as straight forward as that (what a surprise!).

As a result of coalition politics firmly embedded in India, we not only have to keep our eyes on the national parties, but also on regional outfits that can return spectacularly low numbers of MPs to New Delhi but hold the sway of power.

So, who’re the main contenders:

SONIA GANDHI / MANMOHAN SINGH / RAHUL GANDHI
Representing the grand old party of India, the current Prime Minister – Dr Singh – has just had heart by-pass surgery – but hopes lead the next election campaign, seems unlikely to me. There are two other options for the Congress – ‘Madam Sonia’, or her son – Rahul Gandhi – who’s an unknown & untested entity, but given the Congress Party’s adulation for the Gandhi family, I wouldn’t be surprised if either name came to the fore after the election.

India likes nothing more than someone who’s made a sacrifice – think about Buddha, Ashoka, Mahatma Gandhi and other illustrious persons, to which you can add Sonia Gandhi’s name. For she, sacrificed the position of PM last time around (on the issue of her Italian origin) to install Manmohan Singh as PM and win over a new fan base and acceptability.

LK ADVANI
India knows Mr Advani very well. He’s been around for half a century or so and until the last election played an effective no2 to Mr Vajpayee, who’s since bowed out of politics. Being the numero uno, he’s finally the contender, but it seems the Obama effect has resulted in his chances being drastically reduced. A lot of people I speak to all say they want someone younger (Obama effect) to lead the BJP.

With the increasing acceptability of Narendra Modi, it seems the pressure on Mr Advani is that much greater. It’s lucky for him that he’s already been nominated as their Prime Ministerial candidate! I witnessed the tension just a few weeks ago when I attended the Vibrant Gujarat Investors Summit and on the following day, read in the newspapers the furore his success has caused within party ranks. After all, it’s not often that a politican receives the backing of India’s biggest businesses in such a visible manner. At the risk of saying something obvious, I have no doubt that Mr Modi will ascend to the national stage after the next election, however I don’t think he’ll take the post of Home Minister if the BJP win.

MAYAWATI, PRAKASH KARAT, AMAR SINGH, SHARAD PAWAR
In my view, any one of these could determine the next election, if not become the next PM. Mayawati’s increasing reach is unnerving everyone. She’s the Chief Minister for Uttar Pradesh, which returns the largest number of MPs and as she’s ruling, her chances of success are huge.

Prakash Karat’s monumental miscalculation of withdrawing its support to the Congress over the US – India Nucelar Deal has provided Amar Singh’s Samajwadi Party a huge advantage in the run-up to the polls. The Communists haven’t been able to extend their reach outside West Bengal & Kerala, but enjoy huge loyalty in these two states.

The Samajwadi Party lead by Amar Singh, as always, could upset Mayawati’s coronation. You can expect the unexpected when it comes to these two. Amar Singh, after years of hurling abuse at the Congress, decided to jump into bed with them and extend unconditional support to the Congress.

The Maratha vote, lead by Sharad Pawar, who’s NCP is a current coalition partner could also emerge as a victor. A former Congress leader, he split and formed his party focusing on his home state of Maharashtra. With charismatic operators like Praful Patel, I wouldn’t rule him out of the running. Of course, as President of the cricketing board, he’s used to taking on heavy weights in battle.

Elections in any country are interesting to watch. In India, you’re assured a fantastic contest in which a billion people make their way to the polling booths to cast their votes electronically over a six week period. India’s faith in democracy, itself, is worthy of celebration.

As for my crystal ball, it tells me that despite Congress winning the most seats, it see someone like Mayawati at the helm for a couple of years.

A White Diwali!

We’ve all heard of it snowing on Christmas, but no one could ever have imagined that we’d have a White Diwali in London this year!

Despite the unusually cold and snowy evening, we’ve had a fantastic few weeks in the run up to the big day. We’ve seen celebrations all over the world. In London, Trafalgar Square was¬†overflowing with people wanting to experience Diwali, temples were packed to the rafters, community halls hosted Diwali parties, and the shops did brisk business, which was a welcome relief in these times.

In India, Diwali is a huge deal. I don’t often state the obvious but unless you visit India during this period, you’ll simply not be able to realise the scale of the festival. India comes to a standstill for five days. Think of Christmas in the West and multiply it 100 times.

Apart from celebrating the return of the Hindu God –¬†Rama to the city of Ayodhya after a period of 14 years in exile in which he defeats the ten headed demon Ravana to recapture his wife – Sita, we also celebrate and worship the Goddess of wealth and prosperity – Lakshmi.

On this day, members of the business community close their previous year’s books of accounts and open the New Year’s accounts by performing a ceremony to worship Goddess Lakshmi, to ask for her blessings for good profits in the forthcoming year.

Those interesed in learning about Indian culture are advised to pick up a copy of the Ramayana or Mahabharata, in which the tales of Hinduism’s two most worshiped incarnations of God are recorded. There are many good versions in English that can be bought on the net.

As is customary during festivals and celebrations, I’ve eaten far too much in the past few days and now need to¬†schedule an extra couple of shifts at the gym!

Happy Diwali and New Year.

Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan beat India in business reforms!

The World Bank publishes an annual report titled ‘The Doing Business Report’ in which they draw attention to various findings abour business and regulatory reform across the world.¬†I thought it quite interesting to point out that¬†India’s neighbours beat her in the sphere of reducing red tape.

Given the awful state of Pakistan, the transition of Nepal’s monarch state to a Maoist lead democracy, and the ethnic tensions in Sri Lanka, it would have been safe to assume that India would fare well against them in these rankings given her economic prowess.

For a country, whose global popularity was much enhanced by the abilities of its leading IT firms, you’d have thought that India would try to innovate and use technology to a much greater extent. We are, also, often¬† told of the huge reduction of red tape and the decline of India’s license raj, but, if this was the case, then why is India languishing in 122nd place in this global index?

Tips on Doing Business in India

I attended the UK – India Business Council Inaugural Summit in London last week and need to record my praise for their team, and in particular for Sharon Bamford and Karan Bilimoria, CEO and Chairman, respectively, for pulling off¬†an event with such style. Whilst I could not attend the star spangled dinner that evening, I am informed that, once again, they pulled out all the stops for their guests. To mark the international expansion of Kingfisher Airlines, Vijay Mallya trumped his competition by giving each guest a free (economy) round trip ticket to India! I can’t really complain, I won the Jet raffle prize of two free tickets to India earlier that day ūüôā

 

The audience at the¬†conference seemed genuinely interested in India and what surprised me was that the vast majority of those I spoke with already had made inroads into the sub-continent. It didn’t matter if you were a one man band, a SME or a large multinational. They were all at it.

However, the one thing, I did pick up was that India was not a simple place to do business. In response to this, I offer the following five tips to make your lives easier:

1. Treat India like you treat Europe. It’s just as big in size, and has more people. If you treat India in regions, it may make your lives easier.

2. Take some intercultural training before you go. Indian’s may be familiar with English, but the softer aspects of doing business in India are often the most crucial. You need to know what signs to look out for. There’s some great books and some equally good training programmes out there.

3. Appreciate that India is not a command economy / dictatorship. By this I mean, please don’t compare India to China. Both have their advantages and weaknesses. In India, democracy runs deep. Naturally, this extends to every aspect of life and can slow decision making. But be assured, once a decision is made, it’ll probably stand the test of time.

4. India isn’t cheap. Your notions of picking up bargains (business or pleasure)¬†belong to an era long forgotten. From the simple things such as hotel rates, internal flights, even entertainment, be prepared to pay – sure not¬†London or New York rates, but nevertheless rates that aren’t what you may have been lead to believe.

5. Finally, in my view, India is¬†THE land of contradictions. So much wealth, yet, so much poverty. So many educated people… so few quality educational institutions etc etc. Bear this in mind when visiting India.

The UKIBC summit reminded me of the reasons why we formed our business – India is the place to be, it still makes my pulse race faster. Well done, UKIBC.

God Bless America…

I’m currently in¬†the US and although some things should not come as a surprise, they still do! To my misfortune, I never get the opportunity to travel beyond the major cities and it may be for this reason that when I do travel away from the major centres¬†that I’m taken aback by simple things that contradict established views about the only superpower in the world!

So, what do we expect from a superpower in today’s age? Well, it would be fair to expect a heightened awareness of global affairs; of the presidential slinging contest currently being played out on TV; recognition that America is one country in a world of many etc etc. I could go on and on.

The truth is so so so way off the scale that I needed to pinch myself to remind me that I wasn’t having a nightmare. I used to think that India was a land of contradictions – ultra wealth¬†VS massive poverty, 650,000 graduates each year¬†VS being the most illiterate country on earth etc. that I’ve now decided to award the mantle of ‘the land of contradictions’ to the US.

This is a complicated place. Can you imagine the cultural challenges of the two trying to work with each other?

Indian Entrepreneurship – Lakshmi Mittal, the trailblazer

Was invited to the Emerging India awards yesterday evening with global icon Lakshmi Mittal in attendance¬†and Trade Ministers from India and the UK -Kamal Nath and John Hutton¬†playing second fiddle to an audience comprising some of India’s best SME’s, who had flown all the way to this prestigious awards ceremony that celebrates India’s talent in nurturing entrepreneurs.

Lakshmi Mittal, in his keynote address,¬†spoke of his challenges when he was first starting out in the steel business.¬†He recollected how the production of his first tonne of steel brought a profound sense of satisfaction that even his 110 million tonne Arcelor Mittal doesn’t match.

In his address, Kamal Nath highlighted: “…with the internet and a Fed-ex account, SME’s are able to compete with some of the world’s biggest companies.” As the promoter of a SME myself, I couldn’t agree more.

India’s banker – KV Kamath, CEO of ICICI Bank paid a tribute to Indian entrepreneurship and highlighted that the number of SME’s applying for an award had gone through the roof. With 20,000 applications made in the first year, this year, a staggering 300,000 Indian SME’s had applied in 10 categories!!

We’ve all heard key statistics that make Indians tick – for example, India has a¬†population of over 1 billion,¬†a middle class bigger than the entire population of America, or more engineering graduates than all European countries put together etc, but the one fact about India that knocks me off my feet everytime is that India is a young country. Simply put, there are more young people in India than China and almost everywhere else.

I’ve posted a blog previously in which I explain that certain traits are built into our DNA. I believe that entrepreneurship is exactly one of those traits that is built into Indian people. I can confidently predict that the trend of Indian entrepreneurs taking on and winning global boardroom battles, like Lakshmi Mittal,¬†has only just begun.

Enterprise at Downing St

It was an honour to be invited by the Prime Minister and Mrs Brown to a reception at Downing St for entrepreneurs a few days back.

The reception coincided with the launch of a new strategy for enterprise and a set of counterproposals by the Conservatives. From my experience of starting businesses in the UK and in India, I have to say that the UK is way ahead and easier to navigate for the budding entrepreneur. We’re always going to have issues, and we’re always going to feel that the Government isn’t doing as much as it can to reduce red tape. However, if one takes an objective look (at our bottom line), our businesses are growing.

In conversation with the PM, many of us expressed that we faced the real danger of talking ourselves into a recession. Despite the negative media that the economy is receiving, the overwhelming consensus was that our businesses were growing, orders and contracts were being sealed and in general terms, we were all confident of weathering any economic downturn that we may face.

However, what I found very interesting was that everyone I spoke with at the reception said that they already had some kind of relationship with a high growth economy like India or China. Whether it was the lady who specialises in glass architecture, or the guy from Wales who’s set up an incubator for hi-tech companies in Wales.

Looks like the Government’s fear that medium sized businesses weren’t aware of the opportunities of India and other high growth economies presented,¬†is misplaced. Raising awareness is not the problem. What they do need to worry about¬†are the next steps…

Companies like mine specialise in helping British companies crack India. www.saffronchase.com

 

 

 

Bollywood leads the way…

With India being all the rage in London at the moment, it was probably quite apt that the Confederation of Indian Industry’s Business Leaders Summit concluded with ICICI Bank hosting an entertainment extravaganza in their honour with Shah Rukh Khan – bollywood superhero.

Vijay Mallya, Naresh Goyal, Deepak Puri, Suhel Seth¬†et al rubbed shoulders with their contemporaries in London to the tune of some of Bollywood’s best loved songs (as performed by SRK).

In a Q&A response, Shah Rukh reiterated that whilst Hollywood is perceived as the epicentre of films, the Indian film industry isn’t far behind and he didn’t aspire to act in Hollywood.

When delivering intercultural training programmes for Western corporates (through our India Briefing Centre), we ensure that the participants watch a 15 min slice of a Hindi film. Just by watching these clips, your senses become accustomed to the huge gulf in western and eastern cultures. Apart from the singing, dancing and overdramatized action scenes, Bollywood flicks play a central role in shaping the identities of global Indians.

Ignore them at your peril.