The India-UK relationship has not been accorded much importance in India, despite Britain’s positive shift in attitude manifest in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s third Indian visit in the last three years, Britain’s vast Indian diaspora, and significant historic, and cultural ties. However, there are prospects for an increase in Foreign Direct Investment beyond the current £3 billion, and a large part of it includes the construction of the ambitious Bengaluru-Mumbai Economic Corridor. Gateway House’s Trupti Sarode talks to Seema Malhotra, Member of Parliament, Labour Party, House of Commons, UK, on ways to enhance bilateral trade, CSR initiatives, and mentoring of MPs in the UK Parliament.
Q. Britain is one of India’s biggest investors and it has much to offer in terms of universities, technologies, and investment. Yet trade in goods between the two countries is disappointingly low. What can they do to enhance this?
It is absolutely right that bilateral trade could and should be stronger. I am quite heartened after the visits I made to Punjab, Mumbai and Delhi, looking at businesses, and ways in which they can partner with Britain. One is improving import and export relationships. The second is looking at higher value relationships in universities or motor-manufacturing and taking the best of what both countries have to offer and use each other as a base for the global market. Those are the strategic opportunities that we have to look at. We believe that Britain has got to maintain an internationalist outlook, working with, supporting and enhancing connections with growing economies like India.
Q. Recently the UK minister Gregory Barker said that two-way trade between both countries is likely to double by 2015. For the first time a ministry has been set up to enhance business ties between India and the UK. What explains this concentrated focus?
We recognise across political parties that this is an important part in Britain’s economic future as well as an opportunity for India. We are the world’s oldest democracy and India is the world’s largest. We want to be able to create ways in which we work together, thinking about our shared future. We need to look at opportunities for tier II and tier III cities. We have to find ways to reform the way the UKTI (UK Trade & Investment) works, so that it creates an open door to regions in the UK and enables faster access to information, flows of capital that can support investment and reach areas of the economy in both countries that need growth and jobs.
Q. Britain is the favourite destination for Indian FDI and British firms too have 30% of all their FDI in India. Do you share the hope that this can go up and where do the prospects lie apart from the Bengaluru-Mumbai Economic Corridor?
I think the prospects are tremendous and I say this because of the confidence in the conversations I have been having with the businesses here. They are exporting into Britain and new high-tech sectors are growing. We are part of a global world and our economies are mutually dependent. British businesses have been successful in India but Indian businesses are also tremendously successful there. As you know Jaguar-Landrover and other businesses in Britain are actually some of the largest employers now. We have an opportunity to not only invest in each other’s countries for mutual development, but also to use each as bases from which we can go further.
Q. Do you believe that CSR initiatives hold the key to social stability and that the industry needs to come forward in key areas such as healthcare and education? Has that been your experience in the UK and what lessons does it hold for India?
CSR is going through a phase of development and it is the same in India. You are actually seeing a change in company law that is looking at 2% profits averaged over three years being invested in particular areas for social benefits, and for social outcomes. We cannot have economic success with social instability. In England what we have seen are changes over the years in terms of company reporting. We have an organisation called Business in the Community that looks to share and accelerate best practices so that companies maintain their contribution to what we call social mobility towards those that have not had access to the best of education. It is actually about how you have a good, responsible business, and a business that has a sense of the social environment. This has to be the partnership for businesses of the future.
Q. What are your perceptions about the Aam Aadmi Party and what do you think this is a reflection of?
In the UK, we have had the rise of third parties outside of the two main parties – the Labour party and the Conservative party. What was learned was that they often provide a fresh voice to challenges larger parties are not so forthcoming about. It is what we call democratic deficit in the UK – when we know that a large number of people haven’t voted because they feel that politics is not connected to their day-to-day lives and that the larger parties don’t talk a language that resonates with them. Similarly, an interesting force has come through with the Aam Aadmi Party. This isn’t about what it owes its success to. It is actually what challenges it poses to the main parties that are the more established political forces.
Q. Is there a formal programme in the UK Parliament for mentoring MPs? What are some of these initiatives and what has been your experience?
Individual political parties have their own programmes in place. I have been supported by colleagues who acted as sources of advice during my election campaign. One of the things I do believe is that any MP has to be entrepreneurial. You have to create your own identity and you have to think about how you are investing the resources of your office in achieving the outcomes you believe are important for your constituency and your party. It is an ongoing story wherein the advice you had in one year may not be the advice you need the next year. Politics is not about yesterday. Politics is always about delivering tomorrow.
Seema Malhotra is Member of Parliament, Labour Party, House of Commons, UK Parliament (Constituency: Feltham and Heston, Greater London).
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