The Rise and Rise of Indian Investment in Britain

As India's Tata group appears poised to swoop on British icons Jaguar and Land Rover, 2007 will be remembered as not only one marking 60 years of India's independence from Britain but also as a year that saw the rise and rise of Indian investment in Britain.

In fact, from the rather patronizing position of being a 'jewel in the crown' during the heydays of the British Empire, India has emerged as one of Britain's foremost partners in a relationship spanning 60 years, which can best be described as 'onwards and upwards'.

In recent decades, the contours of the India-Britain encounter were uneven. Earlier, the story had more to do with Indians arriving in Britain to take up jobs that locals did not want to do. But in the last few years, India's image first changed from a taker of British jobs due to outsourcing to a generator of jobs in Britain.

Throughout 2007, Indian enterprise has stalked British businesses and has taken over several companies: Tata taking over steel giant Corus, Vijay Mallya's United Breweries taking over scotch major Whyte & Mackay, and a host of small and big companies being taken over by Indian companies seeking to spread their reach globally.

It was Mahatma Gandhi who set the tone for the relationship between India and Britain in Oxford in 1931. He was asked at a meeting of members of the Raleigh Club and the Indian Majlis: "How far would you cut India off from the Empire?"

Gandhi replied: "From the Empire, completely; from the British nation, not at all, if I want India to gain and not to grieve. The British Empire is an Empire only because of India. The Emperorship must go and I should love to be an equal partner with Britain, sharing her joys and sorrows. But it must be a partnership on equal terms."

As India celebrated 60 years of its independence Aug 15, the umbilical connections with Britain rooted in the colonial experience made for a special relationship that withstood the test of time since 1947 when the Union Jack gave way to the Tricolour.

India's independence was preceded by centuries of British rule, during which ideas of modernity were transplanted on to a traditional civilization. The ideas in turn galvanized local resistance to foreign rule and, after years of tumultuous events, culminated in the idea of India and eventually in self-rule and freedom.

If the story of British rule was replete with bad news, it was also marked by a sense of fair play, and the introduction of the English language, cricket and institutions that have benefited independent India in many ways.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while accepting an honorary degree from Oxford University in July 2005: "Today, with the balance and perspective offered by the passage of time and the benefit of hindsight, it is possible for an Indian prime minister to assert that India's experience with Britain had its beneficial consequences too."

Much of Indian public life has been structured around British laws, ideas and values. This includes the field of education, industry, health and the media. British newspapers such as The Times, London, were seen as benchmarks to which Indian journalists and newspapers aspired to. The state-owned All India Radio was patterned along the lines of the BBC.

Britain contributed at various levels as India faced several challenges after independence. But by the late 1980s, India and Britain began regarding each other as genuine partners, free from the hangover of the colonial experience.

As Manmohan Singh said: "Today, there is no doubt in my mind that Britain and India are indeed partners and have much in common in their approach to a wide range of global issues. As we look back and also look ahead, it is clear that the Indo-British relationship is one of 'give and take'."

In 2007, relations between India and Britain have been universally described as the 'best ever'. The relationship is increasingly marked by the resonating tenor of currency - as Indian companies take over British businesses and create jobs in Britain, and British companies outsource low and high-end work to India to exploit Indians' strengths in intellectual property and low-cost economy.

India has now emerged as a top investor in Britain. Regional development agencies are vying with one another to court Indian business and Bollywood producers to come and invest or shoot in their regions. India's perception as the taker of British jobs through offshoring has changed to creator of jobs in Britain.

Former prime minister Tony Blair was the first G-8 leader to moot the idea of India joining G-8 discussions. At his invitation, Manmohan Singh visited Britain in July 2005 for the "G-8 Plus 5" Gleneagles Summit (India, China, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico). India has since been a key participant in the deliberations.

Britain strongly supports India's candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. As the March 2006 White Paper outlining the forward plan for British diplomacy put it: "India is an important partner on global economic and political issues including energy and climate change, serious regional crises, and global non-proliferation.

"As the world's largest democracy, India will have a growing influence in international affairs and on the global economy. It will have particular strengths in the service and knowledge sectors, while broadening the base of its growth. We are strong advocates of India gaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council."

Relations between India and Britain is also marked by the presence of over one million people of Indian origin in Britain, where their growing economic prosperity has come to be encompassed in the term, 'the strength of the brown pound'.


More by :  Prasun Sonwalkar

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