This Is India's Time

The centre of gravity is shifting. It's time the US and Europe shared leadership with India and China.
 India Today, 18 September 2006
I am delighted to have been able to visit India so soon after being elected as leader of the Conservative Party. I wanted to see for myself how this country is changing.

It is increasingly understood in Britain that India will play an important role in the 21st century. I wanted to find out whether the many links that join the two countries, and the values we share as secular democracies, can provide the basis for a special relationship-a strong partnership for the new era-built on the shared values and family links of the kind which underpin Britain's friendship with the US.

My four-day visit took me to Pune, Mumbai and Delhi and included meetings with political leaders like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi as well as business figures, educationalists, environmentalists and civil society leaders. I am delighted by the strength and familiarity of the friendship between the two countries. I am also excited about the potential for greater co-operation, something that I believe will be vital if both the countries are to meet the opportunities, and challenges, of globalisation. I'd like to propose a few simple steps towards achieving this special relationship.


Much already unites India and Britain: a shared history and language, educational and commercial relationships, ideals of tolerance, freedom and democracy. There are the bonds which grow from the 1.3 million people of Indian origin living in Britain; a group that has contributed so much to my society. I believe both our countries can be proud of our success in creating stable, multi-cultural communities: I was struck by the fact that India's Hindu majority are currently governed by a Muslim President and a Sikh prime minister. And let's not forget cricket, a sport I am passionate about.

I believe these ties mean that a new special relationship can become a pillar of prosperity and stability in the world. We face several key challenges. Globalisation offers great rewards, but many will struggle to keep up with the pace of change. Britain and India have both experienced the horror of recent terrorist attacks, and will face new security threats in the future. And we must work together to protect our shared environment.


But before we can build a special relationship, each country must overcome certain misconceptions about the other. Britain must understand how quickly the centre of gravity is shifting from Europe and the Atlantic to the South and East. It's time that the US and Europe adjusted to a new world order, and shared leadership with India and China. India has already demonstrated its readiness to play a global role. It is the world's largest democracy representing almost a fifth of the world's population. And it is a nuclear power; a responsible force for stability and progress in a sensitive region.

The West also needs to recognise that India's extraordinary economic growth has already pushed important areas of the economy far up the value chain. Call centres and low cost manufacturing are just part of the story. India's eight per cent per annum growth rate is being powered by home-grown giants like Tata, Infosys, Wipro and Reliance. India has talented entrepreneurs and industrialists running world-beating companies. It also has great universities. At IIT Delhi, I was fascinated to meet recent alumni who had already launched start-ups using cutting edge wireless technology. Every year India produces more engineers than the European Union and US combined. Truly, this is India's time.

India needs to understand how it can best engage with Britain's service-oriented economy. The liberalising reforms implemented by successive Conservative governments in the eighties and nineties left Britain well placed to respond to the impact of globalisation. Competitive pressures mean we no longer have so many great industrial firms. For example, although we are still a major car manufacturer, our expertise in this sector is increasingly in automotive design and R&D.

I was happy to discover that Tata Motors has recently opened a new research facility in Coventry in conjunction with Warwick University. Britain's world-leading universities are increasingly acting as incubators for technology and biotech entrepreneurs. We have great pharmaceutical firms. London is a global financial centre. I am delighted that there are now so many Indian companies listed in the alternative investment market (aim). But I want more to use London as a place to raise new capital, and as a gateway into the European Union.


In order to widen and deepen our relationship we must first understand each other's realities and priorities. But what practical steps can we then take in order to make this special relationship a reality?

First, we should both continue to make the case for market liberalisation. Open economies are important because they allow enterprise to flourish; they unlock the latent talent in all our people. We must also be ready to defend-and explain-liberalisation, in the face of those who attach a misguided importance to protectionism. No one understands this better than Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who as finance minister in 1991 began the liberalisation programme that has had such a lasting and dynamic impact.

We must also take concrete steps to make our economies more open. India and Britain must use their influence to try to restart the Doha Round. But if we cannot get a breakthrough, we should consider the possibility of an EU/India free trade agreement. The EU should also look at opening its markets to India, and other large developing countries, by widening the 'everything but arms' initiative which has provided market access for some of the poorest people of the world.

In Britain, we must work harder to attract more Indian students to our universities and business schools. The British government should do more to encourage UK firms to invest in India (you received just half a per cent of British overseas investment in 2004, and less than one per cent of our exports). During my visit I met leaders of British firms like JCB, HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank which were committed to expanding their investments in India. But many British coompanies are staying away, or focusing on China.

Support for firms considering investment in India needs to be improved, and Britain's Department for Trade and Industry needs to adopt a more pro-active approach if we are to retain our position as India's second largest overseas investor. When I met Prime Minister Singh I requested him to continue to take steps to open up India's markets. In many areas where Britain has world class expertise-such as insurance, legal services, banking and retail-the barriers to foreign investment are still quite high.

We must also be honest about globalisation, and acknowledge that it has losers as well as winners. Open economies will need strong societies to ensure that the broken rungs at the bottom of the ladder get mended. Alongside economic opportunity must go economic empowerment. I visited a slum project in the Bandra Kurla district of Mumbai providing children with the computer skills they needed to succeed in the new Indian economy. It was an unforgettable experience.

Our special relationship must also focus on other areas of mutual concern. Britain and India do not have to explain terrorism to each other. The cities of Mumbai and London have recently shown remarkable resolve and cohesion in the face of indiscriminate murder. India has a tradition of democratic secularism that the world can learn from. Its success in integrating diverse communities, and its diplomatic and military capabilities mean that India will play a key role in helping to resolve regional and international problems. For all these reasons we need to bring India into the centre of global decision making process, be it the United Nations, where India should become a permanent member of the Security Council, or the G8.

Then there is the threat we all pose to our shared environment. India (and China's) rate of economic growth will put massive pressure on energy resources, and tackling climate change must be a top priority for all of us. In Delhi I visited your impressive new metro system, an infrastructure success story. I also studied the initiative to improve air quality by forcing public transport to switch to compressed natural gas. This initiative has much to teach Britain.


At the end of my visit I was honoured to lay a wreath at Rajghat, where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated in 1948. I was struck by the peace of the site, and the lessons we can still learn from a great Indian life dedicated to calling for communal understanding and friendship. India's extraordinary success as a secular democracy is one of the finest developments of the 20th century. I also found time to see the Red Fort. I was interested to see that its centuries-old architecture and mosaics consciously reflected the rich and harmonious diversity of Indian society. At a time when intolerance and hatred divide so many, India has much to teach the world in the 21st century.

The author is the Right Honourable David Cameron, MP, Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, Great Britain