David Miliband's visit to India

The Foreign Secretary’s recent visit to India, which has created quite a stir in India and within the diaspora in the UK, reinforces, at least for me, the need for better inter-cultural understanding from both sides. Yes, he could’ve avoided connecting the recent Mumbai attacks with the bilateral dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir; yes, he could’ve avoided coming across as arrogant and forceful; yes, he could’ve adhered to formal titles when addressing senior ministers in Delhi; and of course, yes, he shouldn’t have visited Rahul Gandhi’s constituency so close to the upcoming general election.

We’ll do well to remember that Indian politics is complex and the subtext of what you say is probably more important that the actual words you finally use, we’ll also benefit if we understand that in most cases, Indian politicians come into the front line after they hit a half century – let’s not forget Manmohan Singh is in his 70s and Mr Advani is in his 80s. With Miliband barely into his 40s, it must come as a huge surprise to the Indians when the “young man” started flexing his muscles.

David’s visit to Pakistan is being hailed a huge success as my sources tell me that he got them to agree to move a lot further than expected on key issues including curtailing their terror infested networks, which is the right place to  flex his muscles. In my opinion, India deserves a little more respect given our alignment of many, many strategic & substantive issues.

Now that the visit is consigned to history, if I were David Miliband, I’d ask myself what I could improve on and work towards that goal. No Foreign Secretary is going to be able to avoid India, so you might as well acknowledge that you may have got your messaging wrong and that future visits and speeches will be planned with an extra helping of intercultural awareness.

Crack India – be better informed.

Last week, my firm (www.saffronchase.com) launched the India Briefing Centre – a service that can help British firms crack India. The first being bespoke sectoral briefings and training programmes that can provide executives looking to engage with India, the vital information they require to make decisions. Whilst the focus is on briefings, our mainstay is delivering intercultural training for teams from leading companies visiting India, which we’ve been doing over the past decade in various other guises.

From the moment you land to the moment you return back to your home country, you’ll find India to be a land of contradictions. Because of her shared history with Britain and her contribution to the Commonwealth, it’s easy to make the mistake that the same rules apply in India as they do, for example, in the UK. Whether it’s in the workplace, in emails, on phone conferences, or after hours when you’re socialising with colleagues – if you don’t wise up and realise that the rules are different, you’re guaranteed failure and risk alienating yourself.

Our experience tells us that those contemplating working in India are better off having some form of orientation before they leave. Learn the rules behind creating positive relations with Indians and you’ll be far more successful.

From past experience, the segment that everyone really enjoys in our intercultural training programme, is the 15 minute excerpt of a Bollywood film.

Forget what I said earlier about learning the rules – just watch the latest Bollywood flick and you’ll be fine 🙂

 If you’d like to read our press release, you can view it here: http://www.saffronchase.com/SC_press_release_May2008.pdf