On Sunday 11th May, Lord Bilimoria was interviewed on Sky News’ flagship “Murnaghan” programme regarding the on-going Indian General Election. A transcript of the interview can be seen below.
DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Now the General Election in India is of course a huge operation and we’re often told it’s the world’s largest democracy where over 800 million people are eligible to vote, that’s more than the entire population of Europe. Well now after five weeks of voting the election is almost over so who’s going to win power and how could it affect Britain? Well I’m joined now by the British businessman, Lord Bilimoria, co-founder and chairman of Cobra Beer, he was born in Hyderabad in India of course and has just returned from India. You were there at the start of the elections which were way back, what, at the beginning of April?
LORD BILIMORIA: April 7th, yes.
DM: My goodness me. So where do you see the momentum now, is it with the BJP?
LORD BILIMORIA: Yes, very much the consensus is that Narendra Modi, the primary candidate for the BJP, is predicted to win. It’s a question of how much his BJP party wins because there are 543 seats and they have to get 272 to get a majority. In September they predicted, oh if he gets over 180 he’ll be able to form a coalition, well now that went up and he’ll definitely get over 200 now, they are even talking about his NDA, his Alliance which is made up of 27 parties, possibly getting an outright majority from day one.
DM: What could that mean for India? He has been described in the past as a Hindu nationalist, he had his right to visit the UK, he even had his passport … they wouldn’t allow him in, it is said that he actually could be divisive for India.
LORD BILIMORIA: Well he has been Chief Minister of Gujarat State in western India, a very successful Chief Minister, he was re-elected, is in his third term now and as a state it has actually done very well from a business point of view. Yes, of course he was Chief Minister in 2002 soon after he was appointment when those awful, awful incidents took place which were tragic not just from India’s point of view but from the whole world, he was Chief Minister then but in the ten years that the Congress party have been in power he has not been convicted so we in Britain do business with Gujarat. When I was Chairman of the UK India Business Council I was not allowed to take delegations to Gujarat, now we have…
DM: There are 150 million Muslims within India, I know it is a vast population, well over a billion as we know but nevertheless, can he heal or exacerbate those tensions?
LORD BILIMORIA: Well India is a secular country, no one can lead India without having a pluralist and secular attitude because of the vast number of minorities, of which the Muslims are the largest. It is one of the largest Muslim populations in the world and I think if he comes to power he will have to work with everybody and of course, what’s really complicated about India is it’s 35 states and union territories and each one of these states is like a country. The Chief Minister of a state is Prime Minister of that state and has a lot of autonomy as well, so you have got to work with the states and politically it is very complicated. Here it is relatively simple with the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP, in India there are so many parties. Here we get excited if Boris Johnson is perhaps standing as MP and being Lord Mayor for one year, you’ve got members of the Upper House in India now standing for [loads?] of our seats, you’ve got people who stand for more than one seat, you’ve got people who are trying to make a stand by standing in contentious seats to just make a point and it’s so complicated. The figures, 815 million people being able to vote, the largest election in the history of the world.
DM: But those complications lead and also have a bearing on one of the age old problems for India which Narendra Modi would have to wrestle with, the issue of corruption. He’s an outsider it seems, he is not one of those Delhi elitists is he, does that help?
LORD BILIMORIA: Well it helps for example that he has actually run a state for over a decade and being Chef Minister of State, you’re actually governing that state. One of the criticisms about President Obama of course is he was never a governor of a state, he’d never run anything before he became President of the country and I think that’s to his credit that he’s been Chief Minister of State and he has got that experience but that’s different running one state to running a country of 1.25 billion and all its diversity.
DM: And just tell me from a business perspective, you are ideally placed of course having business interests there and here, would he improve that environment, the relation between India and UK in terms of trade?
LORD BILIMORIA: There is no question, every single business person I’ve spoken to in India wants Narendra Modi to be Prime Minister because they see him as being pro-business, as promoting business, promoting exports, promoting inward investment and from India and UK’s point of view, here in the UK we have over one and a half million people of Indian origin, it is the largest ethnic minority population in the country which I’m proud to say does incredibly well here in Britain and I think a lot of those are Guajarati’s as well and for them to have Narendra Modi, somebody from their state becoming Prime Minister I think there will be a huge, huge surge in business between the UK and India. In fact the stock market is already predicting his becoming Prime Minister and exit polls are now allowed, they are only allowed after the voting finishes on the 12th and then the election results are announced on the 16th so when the exit polls are released and of course when that result comes out on the 16th, they are predicting the stock market in India is going to rocket.
DM: Okay, we’ll await those results with interest. Thank you very much indeed for your predictions and your analysis, Lord Bilimoria there.