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Indian Forum on British Media Annual Dinner - Lord Bilimoria and Baroness Sandip Verma

Lord Bilimoria’s keynote address at the annual dinner of the Indian Forum on British Media, held at Wembley Plaza on 22nd February 2007.


Lord Karan Bilimoria giving his keynote speech at the annual dinner of the IFBM


Baroness Sandip Verma addressing the members of the IFBM


David Turtle, executive member Mediawatch; Krishan Ralleigh, President IFBM


Pushpa Bhargava - General Secretary IFBM; Chandru Malkani, PRO, vote of thanks

I was talking to my 10-year-old son the other day about how lucky he is to be half-Indian. With India booming and the country’s future so bright, his Indian roots mean he can be very much a part of that future. The British High Commissioner to India, Sir Michael Arthur, and I were also speaking the other day about how, for our own parts, we were both privileged to be appointed to the “India Brief” at the same time, in July 2003, when I was appointed as the UK Chairman of the Indo British Partnership. We both feel so fortunate to be doing these jobs in such exciting times.

The Indian economy is definitely in turbo-charge mode now, growing at around 9% per annum – it’s all happening, and the world is watching. Britain, I am happy to say, is also paying particular attention to India. The two countries have a long and close relationship, and this is only made stronger by our shared values – democracy, the rule of law, and an absolutely free and vibrant press.

I recently went on a tour of India’s Houses of Parliament, and in the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, I thought of my great grandfather, D.D. Italia, who was an entrepreneur and philanthropist in Hyderabad and himself a member of the Rajya Sabha. It was a privilege to follow in his footsteps with my appointment here to the House of Lords. During the tour it was pointed out to me the places reserved for – and here I am quoting the guide – “one of the pillars of democracy in India – the press”. In India, as is the case in Britain, the government is brought to account through elections every 4 to 5 years. But the press scrutinises the working of the government every single day. It is the combination of the press and the people that ensure the working of a democracy – for the government, facing the press is like having an election every day! Take the current Transport Bill – a petition against it has been signed by almost two million people, protesting the unfairness of this proposed legislation, and it is through the press day after day that they are voicing their contempt.

It has been my privilege to have worked closely with the press all throughout my career – with my company, Cobra Beer; with the Indo British Partnership; and now in the House of Lords. It is the people-press partnership that I respect, and in this room today I can see many of the men and women of the press whom I have worked closely with over the years and whom I look forward very much to continuing to work with.

Many of you will have heard me talk about our vision at Cobra Beer – “to aspire and achieve against all odds, with integrity”. It was something that fell into place for me when I took a course at the Cranfield School of Management, and it has become my personal motto – in fact it’s even on my coat of arms - and I mention it now because aspiring and achieving is something that we all strive to do, and do with integrity, and it is something that has certainly been true of India in recent years. Just look at where India was a few decades ago and how much things have changed!

Recently I was privileged to lead a delegation to India for the Indo British Partnership Network, or IBPN, which I chair. It was our second such delegation – the first, in January 2005, accompanied Minister Ian Pearson, and this delegation accompanied Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and Chancellor Gordon Brown. In 2005 we took 30 people, and this year – as a great indication of India’s rising importance – we took five times that number, with 150 people on the delegation. In fact, it was the largest ever business delegation from Britain to India.


L to R: Krishan Ralleigh(India Link Intl) Salim Sheikh (Pak-India Friendship Forum), HS Luther(India Foundation), Rajan Sehgal (Skylord), Satish Sehgal & Tahir Ali (Venus TV Channel)


L to R: Dr Nirmal Anand, Meena Tandon, Balbir Saluja & Surinder Tandon


Tirlok Sharma with his music group - entertainment at its best


L to R: Dr. Rajinder Saluja, Promod Jolly and Balram Obhroi


L to R: Mrs Luther, Kartick Sehgal, Dr Kanwal Chandok
& Dr. Olga Shahzad

On both delegations we took a British journalist with us, organised by Asia House, the IBPN secretariat. It is such a wonderful way for the press to get involved in India, sending despatches back and chasing real stories on the ground. It is very powerful.

This year we took a deputy editor, who in turn produced a full-page article on India. It was very fair, giving both views – not a rose-tinted view, but a realistic picture of India’s opportunities and challenges. The article laid out the realistic benefits of investing in India and discussed the delegation, and our interactive sessions between business and government.

However, the journalist also addressed India’s many challenges, like the 300 million people living on less than a dollar a day. I often say that these challenges can be expressed in three tiers: the first tier is the ground-level work, including healthcare and education; the second tier is infrastructure; the third tier is competitiveness and India becoming a truly free market, and cutting across all three tiers is the environment and sustainability.

There is increasing interaction between the Britain and India, with hundreds of thousands of people travelling back and forth every month. In the last two years, a total of 34 flights a week has increased to 112 flights a week – and the flights are full, which shows the level of demand.

It also shows the strong links between India and the Indian diaspora in the UK - at 1.5 million people, it is one of the largest non-resident Indian, or NRI, communities anywhere. I am so proud of what the UK’s Asians and NRIs have achieved, reaching the very top in every field, be it in law, culture, politics, sport or academia.

I attended and spoke at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in India in January. The name means “NRI day” and it was so refreshing to see that NRIs are no longer considered a “brain drain” – that they are now celebrated at home in India. NRIs are also the perfect bridge between India and Britain, and indeed India and the world. The Indian diaspora is 25 million strong worldwide, and has so much experience and expertise.

This expertise can be a great benefit to India if the country takes advantage of the opportunity to engage with its NRIs. In fact I suggested to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, and to the Finance Minister, P Chidambaram, that an NRI Advisory board should be established in India, similar to what Chancellor Gordon Brown has here with his International Business Advisory Council. It would be a great opportunity to capitalise on the experience and achievements of NRIs around the world and even off the top of my head I can think of many great potential members – people like Lord Desai and Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen. The NRI community is too experienced to ignore, and can provide so many benefits to India as a “brain gain”.

What exists now is a true respect for NRIs by India, and respect by NRIs for India. I’ve learned in life that for any relationship to be truly sustainable and successful, whether it is a marriage or a business relationship or a relationship between countries or people, it is mutual respect that is essential. I am happy to say that we have that mutual respect between Britain and India, and between India and its NRIs. And a large part of the credit for that mutual respect goes to the vibrant Asian press in Britain – to the local Asian media and the Asian correspondents based here. The Asian media in Britain has a big role to play in developing our mutual understanding, and has done superbly.

For me personally it is wonderful how the Asian media in Britain has contributed to Britain’s awareness of India, because working as UK Chairman of the Indo British Partnership and as Chairman of the IBPN one of my biggest challenges has been a lack of awareness of the opportunities in India among British business. We are now starting to see new levels of awareness in the UK, and along with it we are finally seeing increased levels of government support.

For the past two years, the IBPN has been operating on £75,000 a year, while the China-Britain Business Council received many times that amount. However, the importance of India was too great to ignore, and I am delighted to say that during the delegation the Chancellor and the Secretary of State announced £1 million of funding the for IBPN’s activities.

This couldn’t have come at a better time. The Trade and Industry Selection Committee on India warned in their report last year that Britain risks missing the last train in India. With everything that is happening now, I am confident that we won’t miss that train.

The press in Britain has a huge role to play in ensuring that we raise the awareness we need so that we don’t fall behind. The British press is regularly reporting on India now, and in fact a Sunday Paper recently posted a correspondent in India full time, because they saw what was happening there. Within a few months he came back and said that he needed extra help just to keep up! We now have the regular interactions that will keep our relationship strong, with ministers regularly visiting from both countries, and with the press in Britain watching India closely.

The importance of the press can’t be overstated. When we launched Cobra in India, people already knew about the brand even though we had never sold a single bottle there. The Indian press took pride in the success of Cobra in the UK, and gave us coverage even though you couldn’t actually buy the product there! When we did begin selling in India, four years ago, we hit the ground running, and today sales are rocketing, and I am confident that India will be our biggest market very soon. By the same token, the British press and the Asian press in the UK are constantly increasing awareness of India and Indian companies. It is the power of the press to help create this relationship between India and Britain – a relationship that will only grow stronger in the years to come.

And as we look ahead, I am reminded of my great grandfather, about whom I spoke earlier. Throughout my childhood I remember I was told that one of the great secrets of his success was foresight, and quite frankly that term “foresight” was meaningless to me. It was only through a career in business that I learned the value of being forward-thinking and having that vision. And speaking of foresight, who would have thought just 15 years ago, when India began to liberalise, that the country would be where it is today. This was at a time when one could even argue that India had been forced to liberalise, with the Washington Consensus and the IMF. It was a time when India was almost down to its gold reserves and two weeks of foreign exchange.


"Entrepreneurs are brewed, not born. So what are the right ingredient to make it happen?" Read the book by Karan Bilimoria

And the truth is that not a lot of people saw it coming – certainly many people believed in India’s potential, but the sheer speed at which it happened has, I believe, taken many people by surprise. Last year Harvard Business School launched a Research Centre in India, and Larry Summers, the president of Harvard at the time, was there at the launch and made a speech. Summers was the Treasury Secretary under Bill Clinton, and the youngest person in history to get a full professorship at Harvard. He was also a member of the team at the IMF that put together the rescue package for India. In his speech in Mumbai he said in no uncertain terms that if anyone told him 15 years ago that India would become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, with growth around 8%, he would have said they were mad! If anyone told him India would have foreign exchange reserves worth $150bn, he would have called them insane! This is one of the brightest economists in the world, and even he didn’t have an idea of India’s potential – again, it’s a question of foresight. Earlier this week I spoke to the Chief Economist of Goldman Sachs in India; they are now forecasting in their updated BRICs report that India can potentially grow at almost 7% per annum for the next 40 years, and at around 8% until 2020, and that by 2050 India will have overtaken the USA to be the second largest economy in the world. India definitely has a lot to look forward to!

We all know the story about the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I often imagine India and Britain as two great rainbow nations, with our wonderful diversity and richness in so many aspects, and I sometimes visualise a rainbow that starts and finishes in Britain and in India. The only difference is that instead of the pot of gold being at the end of the rainbow, in our case there is a pot of gold at both ends!

{Lord Bilimoria CBE DL is the founder and Chief Executive of Cobra Beer. He serves as UK Chairman of the Indo British Partnership and as Chairman of the Indo British Partnership Network.}

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