Lockerbie & Bhopal: How UK & India can take on the might of the US, together

This piece has featured on Reuters:

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.

What's going to happen to the India – Pakistan relationship?

More than any other question I have been asked, the central issue that everyone needs to be concerned about is that of the future of the India – Pakistan relationship.

If the mood of the people in Mumbai – those most affected – is anything to go by, we should expect a huge contingent of soldiers to make their way towards the border and eyeball their Pakistani counterparts whilst the international community goes into overdrive to avoid nuclear meltdown. However, the situation today is different to the last time – when the Indian Parliament was attacked.

Different for the following reasons:

1. The Pakistani Government has been quick off the mark to say the right things that may buy them some time. Last time, they also denied their involvement, but they didn’t give the same sense of urgency and importance as they have this time.

2. They fear the consequences of doing nothing. President Elect Obama has already indicated that he wouldn’t have any problems in standing over Pakistant to make sure it delivers on its promise to clamp down on terrorism. He may have made those comments in the context of Afghanistan, but these comments will also apply to these outrageous incidents.

3. India has succesfully managed to shed the much ingrained view that the fortunes of two were linked – the manifestation of this is that now we hardly hear about ‘India – Pakistan’ in one breath, but instead hear about ‘Ch-India’ or ‘India – China’. The successes of India Inc and the huge bank of goodwill that the country has developed is paying huge dividends today. India’s economic might overpowers that of Pakistan by a factor of mllions today and simply put, it is this realisation that strikes fear at the centre of Pakistani decision making.

For these reasons, I believe we will witness a much required and massive rebalancing of power and influence in the region. If there’s one good thing that these attrocities will have done, then this is it.

Is this India's 9/11?

Was invited onto BBC World News and News 24 yesterday & today to help make sense of what’s happening in Mumbai. In response to a question whether Pakistan could be behind this attrocity, I was left with no choice to point out that it wouldn’t be the first time that the left hand fails to speak to the right – in recent history, we know of situations when the Pakistani administration were simply not told what its security and intelligence services were upto.

If Bush can brand Pakistan as being the epicentre of the axis of evil, if Obama during his election campaign can say that he wouldn’t have any issues with launching strikes on Pakistani soil, then the world shouldn’t break ranks with India if it were to exercise its right to protect its citizens. Yesterday, I argued that Pakistani stability was in India’s interest. Today, I go further – Pakistani stability is in the entire international community’s interest.

This could well be India’s 9/11. Let’s hope the world stands with India rather than obstruct its path in helping Pakistan come to grips with the challenges it has domestically.

American Jobs for American People

The British Government’s commitment to engaging with India can only be described as deep and meaningful. Whether we’re discussing the thorny issue of immigration, collaboration between educational institutions, strategy on counter-terrorism, right through to to the relationship with the Indian diaspora in Britain.

However, its the cool commercialism that hits the headlines on an increasingly frequent basis. With the acquisition of major brands by India’s firms, its no surprise that the day after the government reshuffle, the Department for Business fielded a senior Minister to meet with leading Indian investors in Britain.

At the dinner, Pat McFadden’s grasp of the detail was impressive. He spoke openly and was genuinely interested in learning the challenges that these businesses have in the UK. He seemed committed to providing a fair and transparent environment for businesses to flourish.

Given that our economy is under severe pressure and one in which even the PM suggested was headed for recession, I’m surprised that in the US they’re  making a bad situation even worse by rejecting the benefits of globalisation. Don’t get me wrong, I like Obama and want to see him in the Oval Office, but on this issue, I’m with McCain.

For me, I struggle to understand how the American’s have succeeded for so long, when at every big moment they start making statements like: ‘American jobs for American people’. It seems that interdependence is simply not in the cultural DNA of the US and is a clear example of how the cultural makeup of a country is directly linked to its success or failure.

Wall Street backs Obama.

What can only be described as a coincidence, the two times that I’ve visited New York and DC on business, we’ve witnessed such epic events that if I were less wiser, I would believe that I may have caused them. Thankfully, we know that there are far greater forces at play.

The first time, last year, as we stepped onto the hallowed turf of Wall St, we saw for ourselves the wide reaching impact of sub – prime lending.

This time, as we visited leading fund managers and financial analysts on Wall St, we saw for ourselves the full scale assault on the global financial markets. Despite the loss of a large number of jobs at Lehman Brothers, we were delighted that key figures like Mayor Bloomberg made time to meet with us. It was fair to assume that he’d be busy trying to deal with the crisis that could have such a massive impact on New York.

We, then, moved onto DC, where we met with key figures on Capitol Hill. We met with Senator Shelby, who is the ranking Republican on the influential Senate Banking Committee, who hinted as to the line of questioning he would be putting to Hank Paulson.

All in all, after all the analyst briefings we’d attended, after all the politicians we met, after all the hype we read in the leading newspapers in the US, we kept on getting drawn to the presidential race between Senators Obama and McCain.

I was hoping to gain an understanding on whether Wall St had a preference. Well, it turned out that the majority of people we met said that they’d like Obama to succeed BUT couldn’t actually see him winning. Most of the people, drew our attention to middle America (…one CEO referred to them as “white trash”!), who’ll find it difficult to get over the race issue.

My experience on vacation to the US MidWest earlier this summer confirms this view. In my opinion, if Obama wants to win, he needs to do the following:

1. Communicate that he understands the gravity of the financial crisis that we are currently experiencing and then let the current administration get on with what they’re doing. Political interference by either candidate will not be taken well.

2. Make sure the American people understand that McCain belongs to the same ideological family as Dubya. Connecting McCain with the current President will serve him and his campaign for change well.

With about 40 days to go, he could do it. He landed some big blows in the first televised debate last night. Let’s hope that he holds his lead.

Obama – The multicultural hero

I think it’s great that Obama has landed the Democratic Presidential nomination (even though the Clintons haven’t pulled out yet!). While many paint a picture of America as a land in which minority communities are treated as second class citizens, Obama’s success clearly demonstrates the meritocratic nature of its society and of its people.

Who would have imagined that a guy with a name that sounds like Osama, who has family residing in Kenya and has himself lived in Indonesia would one day succeed in being nominated for President. This stuff is of dreams.

Even if he doesn’t win the election (which I think he will), the simple fact that this guy has broken through sends a sharp message, firstly – to Americans, and secondly, to the world, that America has an improved understanding and appreciation of cultural issues than we’ve given it credit for in the past.

The knock on effect for America’s disasterous foreign policy is huge.

Senator McCain also understands this. Last weekend, he invited three contenders for the VP’s job to meet with him. Among the three was a relatively new and young Indian Senator called Bobby Jindal. Simply by asking to meet him, McCain and the GOP have also acknowledged the need to embrace diversity and multi-culturalism.

In Britain, we (including me) tom tom the egalitarian nature of our society, but we are so so far back when it comes to politics that I don’t see us electing a Prime Minister from the ethnic minorities for another decade or more – despite having a fantastic crop of minority MPs who are hugely talented in the House of Commons. I’m not for positive discrimination but I can’t see one of these breaking through in the same way as Obama.

What’s the solution? Do we need one?