Indo-China and The Politics of the Indian Diaspora

Following the PM’s visit to China and his call on the British Chinese diasporsa to build closer ties, what can we British Indians do for Britain given our special relationship with India?

I write to you from the back of a car from the airport to downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The traffic is slow enough to permit me to type. Having landed from Delhi and before this evening flying to Hong Kong; there is a flight I have taken many times which allows me to work a full day in India, then sleep a few hours on the overnight flight to KL; land in Malaysia and work 9-5 in meetings, then in the evening reach Hong Kong by midnight to start early the next morning. Somewhere in the there I’ll do a run. This is one of those trips.

My meetings in KL and Hong Kong are all about bringing investment into the United Kingdom; working with our Consulates and Foreign Office and local entrepreneurs to make this happen. Trade and investment stop wars, help growth which fuels social care and wealth distribution.

Yet nothing can be taken for granted. Trade alone does not protect a country and it’s peoples. The Indian diaspora in Malaysia, whilst successful, think of Tony Fernandez the owner with Amit Bhatia of QPR football club, has politically suffered and the Hindus especially largely feel disenfranchised. I’ve been coming to Malaysia for 17 years and am surprised that with time the complaints are louder from the diaspora here.

The British Prime Minister announced a ‘special representative’ for the British Diaspora in Priti Patel MP. Fourteen years ago the Foreign Office asked me to be part of a special advisory group on involving the British Indian diaspora on British foreign policy formulation and the then Prime Minister asked me to be part of the UK India Roundtable to provide policy initiatives for the Prime Ministers’s Offices of India and Britain for closer ties between the two countries.

The Chinese and Jewish diaspora are the two role models. Priti’s role should have two prongs. First, trade and investment. Second, political, social, cultural ties.

First, for trade (exports) and investment from the UK into India (British companies owning Indian profit making assets) British Indians are uniquely placed. The feeling is that the huge British Gujarati and Punjabi business communities are not leveraging their own connections to export and invest. UK Trade and Investment – the British Government arm is there to help. A British Deputy High Commission is needed of course in Ahmedabad. Target British Indian business owners for exports to India. My own company as a British asset management company chose India for its second fund because as a British Indian we are better placed than our competitors to exploit the opportunity. More British Indians need to be targeted and informed of how to do it – with a string of mentors who have done it already. Information and know-how from other businessmen is vital.

When I co-founded TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) in the UK, part of the global Indian diaspora of business persons whose Charter Members include Aditya Mittal, this was our aim.

Each British Indian business owner able to export to India or invest in India should be targeted not only to do so and how to do it, but also to be an unofficial ambassador to pull in and teach others. We need to be on a war footing. It’s good for Britain, it’s good for India, it’s great for British Indians.

The role of Government is to convene, to inform, to open doors. The private sector will do everything else.

The second part of Priti’s role should be in building closer social and political ties. The voice of HM Government is more powerful when she can gather the voice of the British Indian population to lobby the Indian Government. But it is vital to do this in a spirit of partnership not lecturing. Our resources, expertise, know-how flowing both ways so there is a better understanding of how to tackle issues such as aid, trafficking, forced marriages, educational exchanges. Find the British Indian leaders, the organisations they can move and set the inspiring goals and targets for each with Governmental blessings. But involve the common person – the regular ordinary people not the same cliques who have access anyway. Give true voice to the mass of Indian NRIs in the UK for a genuine not superficial engagement. That’s how nations develop special relationships. That is what both countries need and want.

Alpesh Patel

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