India — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:24 pm on 18th December 2008.

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Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 12:24 pm, 18th December 2008

My Lords, on 22 November I spoke at the Hindustan Times leadership conference in Delhi. The last session of the conference was a live video debate with President Zardari of Pakistan. He was being filmed in his presidential palace with his lancers behind him, flanked by a portrait of his late wife Benazir Bhutto and a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The conference ended on a terrific high as President Zardari spoke with genuine optimism about Indo-Pakistan relations. Then, just four days later, the atrocities in Mumbai took place. We are all shocked, saddened and angered by what happened there and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling this Motion after those tragic events.

This was not just an attack on Mumbai or just on India, but an attack on the United States of America, on Israel and on us in Britain. Our condolences and sympathy go out to everyone affected. In the midst of all this, my 10 year-old daughter in her innocence asked me, "Daddy, how can people kill innocent people like this?". I said to her, "I don't know, and I don't think I ever will know. I will never understand how terrorists can so ruthlessly and deliberately kill innocent men, women and children".

Almost immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed the finger abroad, ostensibly at Pakistan, and our own high commissioner in India, Sir Richard Stagg, increased the pressure on Islamabad by saying that,

"there is clear evidence that the attacks in Mumbai have links to organisations in Pakistan".

It is clear that much of the north of Pakistan is slipping out of government control. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly spoken of a "chain of terror" stretching from Pakistan, through Afghanistan to European and British shores. Real international pressure has been brought to bear on Pakistan since the attacks.

It was reassuring to see the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visit the region so soon after the attacks and hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari. When that happened, I thought, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if our own Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also went out to India?". I was so happy when we went one step further and our own Prime Minister visited India and Pakistan last weekend. I congratulate and thank him for doing so.

Earlier this month, when the England cricket team was debating whether to go back to India for the test series, I remarked how much cricket is at the heart of the Indian nation and how much it would mean to India if the British players defied the terrorists and returned to India. Not only did the whole team return but it provided us with a most thrilling test match. Having been born and brought up in India, I am often asked which country I support at cricket and whether I would pass the so-called Tebbit test. I assure your Lordships that I usually enjoy the game purely for the appreciation of the cricket without taking sides, but I was overjoyed when one of the greatest cricketers of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, scored a century and won the test match for India. On top of that, he dedicated the Indian victory to Mumbai. He said that,

"it was an attack on India which should hurt every Indian, not just those who live in Mumbai".

There is no question but that lessons are being learnt from the atrocities in Mumbai. The Indian security services were found to be hugely lacking. We have learnt that the United States had provided warning of imminent attacks on Mumbai a month before they occurred. We have learnt that a week before the attacks the Indian Navy and coastguard failed to intercept the fishing trawler that transported the terrorists, despite warnings from Indian intelligence that an attack by sea was immediate. We have learnt that on the day of the attacks the police initially dismissed them as mere gang warfare. This is no way to fight terrorism.

I am pleased to hear, however, that the Indian Government are speeding through legislation to create an FBI-style national investigative agency as well as to enhance coastal security and strengthen anti-terror laws. Given the United Kingdom's vast experience and history in this field, from Ireland to combating modern global terrorism, and given the joint exercises that the UK already undertakes with the Indian armed forces, I urge the Government to do everything that they can to help the Indian authorities, police, paramilitary forces, armed forces and intelligence services in this task, for India's benefit and security and for our own.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, India is the most complex and diverse country in the world by far. Every day, Indians feel the pull of those invisible threads that keep them united, yet I believe that the vast majority of Indians feel themselves to be Indian first over their regional identities—I am not sure that we can say the same over here and whether people feel that they are English, Scottish, Welsh or British first.

India remains a steadfast, pluralist and secular democracy, where, every day, 99.9 per cent of all its religious groups coexist peacefully side by side—India has the second-largest population of Muslims in the world—but all this does not detract from the serious internal difficulties with which it is struggling, in Orissa, in Kashmir, as well as the growing Maoist Naxalite insurgency in hundreds of districts.

India is an ancient civilisation, but it is also a young country. Jawaharlal Nehru said in his famous "tryst of destiny" speech in 1947 on the eve of independence:

"A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance ... The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity ... to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman".

Has Nehru's dream been fulfilled? To this day, every time I land in India, I am hit by its abject poverty, which is as great today as it was when I grew up there as a child. The India that has caught the world's attention with its 300 million middle-class consumers—a sector of society that is growing at a rapid rate, with 14 million people being added to it every year—is a world apart from the 300 million people at the other end of the social spectrum who live on less than $1 per day.

According to the World Bank, 456 million Indians, or 42 per cent of the population, lived below the poverty line in 2005; in 1981, the number was 420 million. India has 60 million chronically malnourished children, which is 40 per cent of the world's total. When we talk of India's GDP growth rate having averaged 8.8 per cent over the past five years, what people overlook is that this is an average. As a leading Indian economist once explained, "If I have one foot in frozen ice and the other foot on burning coals, on average I am comfortable". There are states in India with appalling sanitation, appalling literacy—especially among women—and appalling malnutrition, yet this is a country that is a nuclear power and that has just launched its first mission to the moon.

As chairman of the UK India Business Council, supported by UK Trade & Investment, and the UK chair of the Indo-British Partnership, I used to deal with the current Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, who has taken up his post since the Mumbai attacks, in his capacity as Finance Minister. I would say, "Why can't we reform quicker? Please can you open up the Indian economy faster?". He would say to me, "Do you think we don't want to reform quicker?". However, he would then explain to me the practicalities of implementing reform with a coalition of 18 parties.

On top of that, India is a country of several states. It has a federal system where each state operates almost like a country. In many ways, it is easier to do business between countries in the European Union than between states within India. Not only does India have all the challenges of awful infrastructure and very poor primary education but it is surrounded by neighbours with enormous problems of their own. At 4 per cent, south Asia has one of the worst figures for internal trade. One should compare that with south-east Asia, where it is 20 per cent, let alone with the European Union and what we have here. If only we had more intra-south Asia trade, it would help to bring those countries together and solve many of the problems. However, I believe that India is an example of the saying, "Some people fail because of and others succeed in spite of". In spite of all its challenges, complexities and problems, India will succeed.

I do not remember a great deal from my physics lessons at school, but I remember one formula: momentum = mass x velocity. A population of 1.1 billion and an economy growing at nearly 9 per cent a year: that is unstoppable momentum. India is now reaping the rewards of the liberalisation of its economy, which started only in 1991. The India in which I was brought up was inward-looking, closed and insular; today, the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise has been unleashed and India is an outward-looking, open and increasingly vigorous economy, with Indian companies, in manufacturing as well as in the IT sector about which we hear, going global. This sustained economic growth is critical to tackling poverty. However, the Government or foreign direct investment alone will be unable comprehensively to tackle India's challenges; we need NGOs, corporates and individuals to do the ground-level work that is so urgently required.

Today, the world has woken up to India and India is rightly taking its place at the top table of the world. The Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver to India, with the help of the United States, acknowledges this fact. It is a defining moment for India, yet India is not a member of the G7 or G8 and it still does not have permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which I know Britain wishes to see.

I always say that there are two countries to which we in Britain are closer than any others in the world: one is the United States and the other is India. The reason is that we share the same values and principles in terms of democracy, the rule of law, a free and vibrant press, English being the language of business, and, of course, a shared history.

At the Hindustan Times summit in Delhi in November, I shared the podium with a remarkable young man, Chetan Bhagat, who at the young age of 35 has become the biggest-selling author in India. In his speech, he spoke about what really mattered to young Indians. He said that young Indians above all wanted the politics of similarity, not the politics of difference and elitism, and that they wanted education. There is a huge shortage of capacity and quality in education at every level, yet to this day foreign universities cannot open up in India. By contrast, I am delighted to see record numbers of Indian students coming over here to study in the UK. We have a great advantage in this country in that 2 per cent of our population is made up of Indians. That 2 per cent is now reaching the very top, which is no better illustrated than by our Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paul, whom I congratulate on his new position. It is an honour to speak in the first debate over which he presides. That 2 per cent of the British population contributes more than double that figure to the British economy.

With all these links, and with the relationship between Britain and India stronger than ever—people to people, business to business, Government to Government—we are in the best position to be India's best friend, yet when I give talks around the country and ask business audiences how many of them are doing business with India, less than 5 per cent of the hands go up.

When the 1998 financial crisis took place in Asia, India was barely scratched; today, India has been directly affected by the financial crisis now facing us all, to the extent that the Indian stock market has pre-empted the remarks of the US Treasury Secretary and fallen by 60 per cent. However, while we are going to suffer the most awful recession—I hope that it is not a depression—India's growth is still predicted by the IMF to increase by 6.5 per cent.

The Mumbai attacks were an attempt to destabilise this growth even further. India has sadly experienced several terrorist attacks over the years, with almost 1,000 people killed in the past three years, but it bounces back every time. After the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament, the Indian economy turbocharged from 2002 onwards.

When I am in Bombay, I stay in the Taj hotel. When I go with my family and children, they always look forward to it and love staying there—it is, after all, one of the finest hotels in the world. After the attacks, my children asked me, "Daddy, will we be staying at the Taj again?". I said to them, "Of course, we will". When I wrote to the resident manager of the Taj to express my sympathies, I got an e-mail back from Birgit Zorniger, which stated:

"Thank you for your supportive words and with every passing day we are getting closer to reopening the Taj in memory of those whose lives have been lost. Your support gives us the strength to go on and we look forward to welcoming you and your family soon".

India did not invite this attack; she simply embodied the ideals that these terrorists find so threatening—the ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom. The world has admired India's restraint after these attacks and we should take comfort from the words on Mumbai's coat of arms:

"Where there is Righteousness, there shall be Victory".

Britain has time and again proved to its allies that we are not just fair-weather friends; we are eternal friends, with mutual trust and mutual respect. We are partners in the good times and partners in the bad times. It is this spirit, which India and Britain share, that means that terrorists cannot win and will never, ever win.