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BW Businessworld

Listen To The Knock On The Door

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David cameron became prime minister of the united Kingdom three years ago. He was 43 then. Both he and the prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, are Oxford alumni; Singh was in Nuffield, while Cameron went to Brasenore College. But there was no chance of their meeting there; when Manmohan Singh got his PhD in Oxfo-rd, Cameron was not even born. So they cannot be very close.
 
Cameron made a trip to India in 2006 as opposition leader. He was attracted because in his view, “It’s the largest democracy on the planet, its economy is growing fast, and India is an incredibly diverse society with people of many cultures and religions living together... for example, India has the world’s second largest Muslim population. People are free to be Indian and Muslim, or Indian and Sikh, or Indian and Hindu, without any contradiction.” No Indian leader has put the case for India better.
 
Although he made courtesy calls on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it was mainly a sightseeing trip. But it made an impression on him. He was struck by auto rickshaws, community development programmes in a Bombay slum, and by the articulate guide who took him around Delhi amongst other things. 
 
After he became prime minister, Cameron has been to India three times. He first came two months after his election in May 2010. Cynical Indian journalists assumed he had come to sell Hawk jet trainers. But India had been buying them from 2007 onwards; the only question in 2010 was whether to order a few more. Lobbying for them did not require the people Cameron brought with him — six ministers including his foreign secretary, chancellor and minister of universities, and 26 business people. He wanted to expose them to India, to the business opportunities it offered. He took them to Bangalore, whence he sent a message to Pakistan: “It is not right to have a relationship with any groups that are promoting terror.” He came as a promoter, not for Britain, but for India — let us say, for a closer relationship between the two.
 
The second visit, last February, was similar. Again, our journalists assumed that he must have come to plead for AgustaWestland helicopters, mired in a corruption scandal, and Vodafone, on which Pranab Mukherjee as finance minister had imposed a controversial tax before he was kicked upstairs. But neither matter required the planeload of ministers, secretaries, businessmen and vice chancellors of universities he brought. He first went to Bombay, India’s business capital, and brought together Indian and British businessmen. He laid a wreath at the memorial for the 
policemen who had lost their lives in the terrorist attacks that originated in Pakistan. 
 
The third visit, last week, was less elaborate; it was really a stopover on the way to Sri Lanka. But he gave Sri Lanka a message that our PM is too timid to give: that atrocities by its troops on its Tamil minority must stop. He flew to Calcutta, which was not on the way to Colombo. There he met Mamata Banerjee, who disclosed to him her old ambition of turning Calcutta into London. He promised to help in this chimera. Its river banks are not the only thing that make Calcutta inferior to London. The biggest difference between the two is in manners. When Cameron escorted Banerjee into All India Radio headquarters, he said, “After you.” In Calcutta, everyone tries to go before others. Calcutta’s roads are as broad as London’s; but they are far more crowded because no one has the patience to wait for the space before him to clear.
 
Cameron cannot change Calcutta manners, but he can do something far more important: he can bring business to India, help us bridge our gaping payments deficit, build bridges between India and Europe, and bring us jobs and income in these hard times. He does not want to do this just to promote British business; he believes in openness, in closer ties with distant countries, in India’s economic rise. India should help him succeed, for he is working in our interest.  

The author is Consultant Editor of Businessworld.
 
 
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 16-12-2013)