Indian dynamism puts the eurozone to shame. This is where we need to be doing business, says Boris Johnson.Pssht, I said to Barry from the High Commission. Look, there, I pointed. There it was, slap bang in the middle of the road. It was a giant cat – as black as Bagheera from The Jungle Book, and if anything a bit bigger. We’d only been in India for about half an hour, and we’d already seen kites circling in the blood-red sun of dawn. We’d seen dewlapped cows grazing on patches of grass by the expressways, and elephants waiting for their mahouts to finish their ablutions in the fields. But this was something else.
We drew nearer. Still it didn’t move. “Are you sure it is?” I asked Barry. He leaned over and put the question to the driver. “Is that a Jaguar?” “Yes, sir, it is a Jaguar.”
My friends, it was indeed. Within a few miles of Indira Gandhi Airport, we had found a genuine British Jaguar, waiting at the traffic lights. It was designed at Whitley near Coventry and at Gaydon near Warwick, and assembled into the mighty black beast before us by the workforce of Castle Bromwich near Birmingham. Here, in one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets in the world, I am proud to say that we had found evidence of market penetration by one of this country’s proudest motoring marques.
We drew level at the lights, and I could see a chauffeur in a slightly wonky peaked cap, his face glowing from the posh dials of the XJ saloon. His passenger appeared to be a young and beautiful woman; a film star, perhaps, or a bestselling novelist – someone, at any rate, who had reason to be ferried around Delhi before breakfast in a top British car – and I felt a surging sense of hope.
As soon as you arrive in India, you are overwhelmed by the sheer reproductive energy of the place. You stand in New Delhi by Lutyens’s pink India Gate and look at the vast crowds of young people – walking, courting, playing cricket until they dissolve in the haze. If you go to the courtyards of the Akshardham temple – the largest Hindu temple in the world – you will observe swarms of couples preparing for the joys of matrimony, and everywhere there are the marigold awnings and wedding processions that are the prelude to fecundity.
This is a country of 1.2 billion, set to overtake China as the most populous place on earth – and unlike China, they are all so young. Half the population is under 25. In fact, one in 11 of the entire global population is an Indian under 25. Think of the size of that market, the things they can buy now, the things they will want in the future.
India may have slowed in its frantic growth rate of three years ago – down to a mere 5 per cent from 8 per cent per year. But that is still about five times faster than us or any other EU country. The Indians are young, aspirational, dynamic, democratic, with a gloriously uninhibited press. With the eurozone seemingly heading for a permafrost of gloom, India is the place we should be doing business.
We need to act fast, because we have ground to make up, and we cannot take anything for granted. Young Indians these days are like any other global population that finds itself in the throes of embourgeoisement: they are gripped and excited by America and American brands – Google, Coke, Nike, Starbucks, you name it. The biggest foreign food supplier in India is Domino’s Pizza, an American firm.
40 years ago – perhaps even 30 years ago – bright young Indians might have thought first of finding a first-rate university education in London; and they still do. But we are facing stiff competition from the US. It is time – humbly but sincerely – to remind young Indian brainboxes and investors of the advantages of the UK.
In the postcolonial epoch, I am afraid trade between our countries had sunk – by 2010 we were doing more business with Sweden! But it is growing again, fast, and the opportunities are immense. Of course we can’t trade on sentiment, or the concept of a “shared history” (a history that will mean little to many Indians under 25); and yet it is still true that there is a natural fit between Britain and India, a cultural and commercial fusion that is growing the whole time.
You can see it in cuisine, where restaurants serving Indian food employ more people in the UK than coal, steelmaking and shipbuilding combined. You can see it in literature, where British publishers introduced such talents as Vikram Seth and Arundhati Roy to the world. There is a fusion in film, where it is not entirely clear whether films like Slumdog Millionaire or Bend It Like Beckham are British or Indian or Brindian. We have more Bollywood films made in London than anywhere else outside India. We have seen the fusion in music, where the bhangra sound was taken from India to Southall, given a bit more of a beat and re-exported to India.
Above all, we can see the fusion in business. Look at the alliance between BP and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance, or at Vodafone’s takeover of Hutchinson. Or look at that very Jaguar, product of an Indian-owned firm that is made by Brits and exported to China; or look at the JCB 3DX backhoe loader, a British machine made by Indians and exported to Africa.
As India expands, we need to build these partnerships. In the next 20 years, there are perhaps 30 Indian cities that will be putting in metro systems – think of the opportunities for the dozens of British engineering firms currently engaged on Crossrail, the largest such operation in Europe. We have services from law to health care to planning that could be of use to India in its amazing programme of urbanisation.
India should be one of this country’s key partners for all sorts of geostrategic reasons, and David Cameron was dead right to make this his first port of call in 2010. But it is the economic partnerships that offer the most extraordinary prospects. Imagine selling a Jag to one in every 100,000 Indians. That’s a lot of Jags, and a lot of jobs.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.