Of the 60 or so delegates, by my count, only four were from the defence industry.
There were bankers galore, eager to open up the Indian financial services sector, as well as project consultants, designers and engineers keen to benefit from India’s infrastructure roll-out. Many were from the worlds of the arts, sport, higher education – none gave a second’s thought to weapons sales.
Mishra, who seems in denial about the shift of global economic and political power from west to east, is also wrong to deride India’s prospects as an “unexamined fantasy”. The roadblocks in the way of its emergence as a economic powerhouse informed discussions throughout the three-day visit.
That’s why John Makinson, chairman of educational publisher Pearson India (owned by Pearson, owner of the FT), for example, was there showcasing a project to enhance rural literacy.
That’s why Jeremy Leggett, founder of Solar Century, was invited to explain how his fast-growing photovoltaic energy company could help India overcome power shortages.
That’s why the chief executive of the British Library, the rector of Imperial College and the heads of Oxford and Cambridge Universities were exploring ways they could help transform India’s education system.
That’s why the Wellcome Trust announced a partnership with the Indian government to support the development of innovative healthcare products at affordable prices.
And that’s why the chief executives of major British financial institutions met the Reserve Bank of India and the finance minister to underline their commitment to broadening access to finance among India’s unbanked rural poor.
Sustainable commercial partnerships of the sort discussed during the prime minister’s visit are the future for economic relations between Britain and India.
Mishra is right to applaud the Department for International Development’s work in India, but in my view wrong to close down the debate over whether Britain should begin phasing out aid to a country whose stellar growth is allowing it to roar out of poverty.
As I’ve written in the FT, with a $31.5bn defence budget, a space mission and a substantial foreign aid programme of its own, India is surely displaying signs of being able to fund its own development needs without recourse to handouts.
Most other donor countries long ago concluded that ‘rich India’, composed not just of the wealthy entrepreneurs Mishra seems to despise, but also a 300million-plus strong middle class, has passed the point where it can shoulder responsibility for ‘poor India’s developmental challenges.
Many smaller donors were politely invited to wind up their India programmes years ago. The US aid agency says it is “walking the last mile” with India. The UK is left accounting for almost 30 per cent of all foreign aid to India, in DFID’s biggest single programme.
I admire DFID’s work in India, some of which I’ve been privileged to see up close, and enjoyed debating these issues with DFID’s acting India head on Wednesday in New Delhi. I also want the UK to fulfil its bipartisan pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on aid by 2013.
But I support secretary of state Andrew Mitchell’s decision to place the £825m three-year India programme under review. Critically, he must ensure that the Indian government is a full partner in the consultation, so that New Delhi can manage the message and avoid unbudgeted programme shortfalls.
Lastly, a happy endnote. Mishra mentions the woman knocked down by a vehicle in David Cameron’s convoy in September 2006, saying she was typical of the less-well off India that the billionaires that the UK now courts wanted to “disappear from sight”. Prema Naik, happily, has not vanished.
She was moved to Breach Candy, one of the best hospitals in Mumbai, where the British Deputy High Commission took care of her medical bills. She was discharged about a month later and accepted a compensation settlement. She is now well and living with her brother in Mumbai.
beyondbrics blog – FT
Jo Johnson is Conservative MP for Orpington. Jo worked for the FT for 12 years, during which time his roles included South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi.