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.
Forty 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.