Cameron comes with a different mindset

The new British prime minister is right to start with trade and right to start with Bangalore

Most commentators are putting it mildly, but the numbers show that India-UK trade atrophied in the last decade. From being India’s third largest trading partner at the beginning of this decade, the UK is now the thirteenth, and falling perhaps. Even as India’s overall trade volumes grew at around 26% on an average over the last four years, Britain’s share of the total trade has dropped—from 3.72% in 2004-05 to 2.56% in 2008-09. The growth in absolute numbers, from $7.2 billion to $12.5 billion during the same period masks the marginalisation of Britain as an economic partner.

Mr Cameron hopes to change that trend. The good news is that he has not only arrived in India with a large delegation but also with changed mindset. His government’s decision to remove dogmatic hurdles to trade in civilian nuclear technology and set up a framework for joint research & development in the field exemplifies this. As the British prime minister reminds us in his op-ed in The Hindu:

Beyond the cultural bonds, Britain has practical attractions for India. We speak the world’s language. We are still the world’s sixth largest manufacturer and the best base for companies wanting to do business in Europe. We have some of the best universities in the world and we are a great hub for science and innovation. Britain still has the strengths of its history, not least our democracy, rule of law and strong institutions, but there is also the modern dynamism of the nation that helped pioneer the internet, unravel the DNA code and whose music, films and television are admired the world over. All of these things can mean opportunity for Indian investors and entrepreneurs. [The Hindu]

If Mr Cameron follows through it is likely that he’ll succeed in turning the trade game around. But there’s a deeper, more fundamental reason why there is promise in economic relations between the two countries. Britain is grappling with rising costs of public services and tightening public finances. It will find that India provides the way out of the jam if the “outsourcing” partnerships can be managed well. That is the reason why Mr Cameron did well to start in Bangalore (okay, the beer and Amrut Fusion Single Malt are equally good reasons).

Geopolitics, though, can be a spoiler. The abominable David Miliband has not been forgotten. The Cameron government would do well to steer clear of that kind of gratuitous sanctimony.

Update: In Bangalore, Mr Cameron’s speech in Bangalore will do much to undo the damage Miliband did.

My talk at the Bangalore International Centre

The New Himalayas and the Global Raja-Mandala

Do come and listen to my talk on how India might promote its interests in the geopolitics of the 21st century. It’s next Wednesday 16th June at the Bangalore International Centre.

Synopsis: Despite fundamental differences in the way India and China view international relations, the high Himalayas prevented large-scale military conflict between the two civilizations for nearly two millennia. While the Himalayas are no longer the physical barriers they used to be, the presence of nuclear weapons in both countries makes war unattractive and unrewarding.

The India-China context has, instead, shifted to other domains: in and around the Indian Ocean, in cyberspace, and for access to resources and markets.

The talk will discuss how India might pursue its national interests on this Global Raja-Mandala. It will argue that the nature of the game requires India to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to foreign policy, which not only calls for greater co-ordination among government departments, but also requires the private sector & civil society to engage more deeply in international affairs.

Ambassador C V Ranganathan, former Indian ambassador to China, Ethiopia & France will preside.

Date: Wednesday 16th June 2010 at 6:00pm (Tea will be served at 5:30pm)

Bangalore International Centre
Auditorium, TERI Complex,
4th Main, 2nd Cross, Domlur II Stage,
Bangalore 560 071

To register:
Phone: 98865 99675

For directions: SMS TO BIC to 90088 90088

Absent Indian Voter Syndrome

Urban India’s failure to vote requires greater study

The Acorn has previously invited the ire of the citizens of Mumbai and Bangalore by blaming their neglect of voting for the sorry state of their cities’ (and India’s) governance.

Now, you would have thought that the series of terrorist attacks over the last few years—in commuter trains, places of worship, markets and finally, on Mumbai on November 26th last year—would have sensitised the urban voters of the need for all round improvement in governance. There were also reasonably well-publicised campaigns exhorting citizens to vote.

Yet, the turnout remained in the 40-45% range: more than one in two voters, it turns out, still didn’t turn up at the polling station. (Yes, there were some misguided initiatives that might have confused voters, but still…)

It’s terrible news. It confirms the belief among party political strategists that the urban middle class is merely a self-righteous, noisy segment that is electorally irrelevant. Sure, it’ll send undergarments to lumpen troglodytes, express eloquent outrage when a film is banned, take to the streets against politicians after terrorists attack and keep the candle industry in business, but it will not make a difference in terms of the composition of state legislatures and the national parliament. Why should they care?

That’s all very well for political parties and their strategists, but it means that it is unlikely that Indian politics—and governance—will see much of a break from the past. This is unacceptable.

Those individuals and organisations who are interested in improving governance need to study the Absent Indian Voter Syndrome in greater detail. It is clear that simple explanations of why eligible voters don’t vote are insufficient to explain AIVS phenomenon. Better analysis is required.

Bangalore attacked

Serial bomb blasts come to town

Rediff’s Vicky Nanjappa reports seven bomb blasts in and around Bangalore, killing three and injuring at least 20 people. (via email from Gautam John)

The Indian Express quotes the city police chief:

“Explosives were hidden in places which are refugee prone and on roadside. All six blasts were of low intensity,” said Bangalore Police Commissioner Shankar Bidri.

“The Bangalore police is fully capable of dealing with the situation. We request the people to carry on with their routine life. The affected areas have been sealed and completely cordoned off,” he said. [IE]

Dear Bangaloreans, you deserve lousy infrastructure

The government we deserve

Lousy infrastructure. Poorly managed public services. Quixotic city planning. The city at the heart of India’s new economy suffers from the worst failings of its old politics.

But the sheer apathy with which the city’s voters treated the recent assembly elections—after several years of frustrating political logjams and venal political leadership—suggests that Bangaloreans deserve the mess that they are in.

So my dear Bangaloreans, enjoy some more years of Deve Gowdas, Kumaraswamys and Dharam Singhs. But don’t complain too loudly. You are yourself to blame.

Related Link: Dear (South) Mumbaikars, you deserve your own kind of mess too