India Inc India Inc: Monday, 05 March 2012 12:25

Straight Talk with Ridhika Batra - What's the scope; is there any hope?

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In the last 18 months, India has experienced a myriad of interesting episodes – gain for some and loss for others, depending on the analyser.

However, what is indisputable here is the trend these episodes will set off and the responsibility that rests with the government, industry and civil society on the whole. As for the Wiseman’s Judgment, a realisation of facts can only be a positive sign.

But how much of this excitement and positivity is seeping through to the Indo-UK ties? Was the Supreme Court’s judgment on relieving Vodafone from a $2.9-billion tax bill enough or is the transparent Rafale deal still a sticky issue for many?

If we go by the British tabloid, then India isn’t a ‘dependable’ market anymore and that the ‘I’ of BRIC is to be replaced by Indonesia soon. The media painting this not-so-perfect picture came in the aftermath of India’s decision to opt for French over a British, German, Italian and Spanish deal.

Concurrently, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s ambition is to have an ‘Enhanced Relation’ with India. For a while now in recent British foreign policy, America and Europe had been a fluctuating choice. It’s only now that India has become a regular feature in the foreign policy dialogue for the UK. In a recent article written by PM Cameron for a book published and launched by FICCI at No. 11 Downing Street, he wrote: ‘I truly believe that the UK and India together can overturn a century of convention and demonstrate to the world what a 21st century partnership looks like.’

Primarily starting with an active support for a permanent seat for India at the UN Security Council, he also desires a stronger connect amongst industry members via wider communication between them and an even stronger connect with the student community of the two countries. An evident feature of Cameron’s government is that of consistent support and a well-motivated private sector to engage actively and directly with Indian industry.

If we try and measure his excitement with reality, the results are indeed pleasant. There is a strong sense of collaboration between India and the UK in the vocational skills space and, in fact, many success stories of joint ventures are already shaping up with the private and public ITI’s (industry and training institutes). India has very successfully adapted the sector skill development council model of the UK to its own circumstances.

Besides, a series of incentives around innovation clusters to partner with innovation incubation centres in the UK is at the forefront. Increasingly, Indian media and entertainment moguls get listed at the LSE and service there European market from London. The UK, now gearing to be a world leader in installed offshore wind capacity, is attracting a lot of interest from the Indian market as well.

On the sports front, Soccerex – the world’s biggest convention for football – will be hosting a myriad of Indian sports companies this year. Nobody needs a reminder of the fact that cricket is a parallel religion in India, again a British legacy. But the recent buyout of a British football club by a modest Indian poultry company and a simultaneous interest displayed by British premier league to test the waters in the Indian football market goes to show that other sports too have a huge interest and market in India.

The likes of IMG & WMG recently opened up in India because they have faith that they would have enough sports celebrities to manage in India in the near future.

But as I said in the beginning, optimism or pessimism depends on the lens you chose to view things with.

For me, much of the above sets a positive stage for bilateral discussions between business ministers Vince Cable and Anand Sharma at their upcoming JETCO (Joint Economic and Trade Committee) meeting in London on April 16. The discussions will revolve around the exchange of skills, innovation, infrastructure investments, retail industry and much more.

And to re-iterate the British Prime Minister’s ambition, India and the UK surely can show the world what a modern day partnership looks like.

Ridhika Batra is the London-based Director of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) for the UK and France.

*The views reflected in this column are personal.

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