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London turns focus on India

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British Prime Minister David Cameron with Priti Patel MP, Minister of State for Employment at the Department for Work and Pensions

India Inc’s organised a high profile  summit in London focusing on the sense of optimism within UK-based businesses after the swearing in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The event titled ‘A New Dawn for India: What does it mean for UK-India business?’ brought together a range of big-hitters across the business and political spectrum of the two countries at co-host Ashurst offices in the City of London. The overwhelming sentiment was one of hope and confidence, tempered with the need to be cautious over unmanageable expectations. Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Ranjan Mathai, set the tone for the seminar with a message of renewed vigour and vitality in the India-UK relationship.

He said: “Prime Minister David Cameron’s visits to India threw up a lot of ideas and expectations. In 2010, he set the target of doubling trade by 2015. Are we there yet? No. We would need to reach by the end of next year around $24 billion two-way trade and we are at around $15 billion. So we have some distance to go. But in terms of investment, the last few years have seen very substantial growth. The UK is the third-largest investor in India and Indians are now the fifth-largest investor in the UK. There is a new mantra being developed on India’s soft power and that is talent, tourism, trade and technology. So you can build on that to see what you can expect from the new government.”

Manoj Ladwa, chief executive of India Inc, kicked off the proceedings with his welcome message: “May 16, 2014 is a watershed in the history of modern India. It signifies a change in direction and a change for a better future. The new PM of India [Narendra Modi] said during the election campaign that he felt the last 10 years were a lost decade for India. All of us in this room who are friends of India, work with India and have been thinking about working and doing business in India will agree that at least the last three or four years were disappointing.

“The vote in India is a vote for business; for getting India back on track and back to business. This is the most optimistic time but with it comes a sense of anxiety… the whole world is waiting and watching and wanting to be part of that journey where India moves from a developing nation rapidly towards fulfilling its potential as a developed nation.”

Richard Gubbins, partner and head of India Business Group at the international law firm Ashurst, said: “As someone who has been involved with India for 18 years, I believe the next 10 years will be phenomenal for the country. A few words of advice, which any lawyer should be giving, would be that you have to embrace the country, you have to fall in love with the people and the diversity of their culture.

“You should also have the three Ps – patience, perseverance and persistence. And, probably most important of all, you have to establish a trusted relationship with your stakeholders and partners on the ground.

“We can put that same trust in Narendra Modi, who has sent a very clear message to the West that India is open for business. Over the next few months and years, we will see Mr Modi introducing transparency and accountability.”

Anuj Chande, partner at Grant Thornton, opened the ‘What Can UK Business Expect from the New Government?’ session on a tempered note: “I am cautiously optimistic having been through the ups and downs of India. But I think this is the first time that I am very optimistic about the future of India and a dawn of a new era.”

Priti Patel MP, David Cameron’s Indian Diaspora Champion, sent out a clear message for Mr Modi: “We are all about holding out a hand of friendship and move shoulder to shoulder with India.”

Baroness Sandip Verma, UK minister in the department of energy and climate change, added: “Prime Minister Modi has offered hope and I think that’s where our starting point should be. We now have huge opportunities to engage with India because we have a Prime Minister here [Cameron] who is very business focused and one in India who is very business focused and our historical links that are very deep have to be built on.”

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