On 3rd July, Lord Bilimoria was invited to be the Chief Guest Speaker at the Annual India Link Awards. He spoke about India-British relations and their smart power on the world stage, and his comprehensive speech (a transcript of which is available below) was extremely well received by all those present.

To cap off a wonderful night, Lord Bilimoria was also awarded with the India Link International Indian of the Year Award 2014-15, which recognised his significant achievements in the business and education sectors.

“India-Britain alliance as Smart Powers on the World Stage”


Your Excellency, Dr Varendra Paul, Deputy High Commissioner, My Lords, Sir Mota Singh – who has been a great inspiration to me throughout my career here in the UK, the first Indian ever to become a judge here – Dr Satyapal Sharma thank you for your welcome, and most importantly to Krishan Ralleigh and Vijay Ralleigh. It is remarkable what you have done in creating, running and publishing Indialink for twenty-one years. (applause)

I have here C.B. Patel, someone who I’ve known from the day I started in business, whose son was at Cambridge with me. And CB was saying to me just now – he has been one of the most eminent Asian publishers in this country – and he said he’s been doing it forty years, and for somebody to be here twenty-one years later, not just surviving but doing so well and having done an amazing job – hats off from CB Patel.

To give this lecture, following in the footsteps of another individual who has always inspired me, been a mentor to me, Lord Paul – thank you for what you’ve always done for the community, and I’m humbled to follow in your footsteps in delivering this lecture.

And we’ve got Bob Blackman here – a Member of Parliament who has been a great friend of the Indian community, thank you for being here as well.

There are many people I could single out, but I do want to single out one other person who’s sitting very quietly over there, and that’s Mr Sachar, the founder of the Asian Who’s Who and the Asian of the Year awards, who is always in the background, has never received recognition for what he’s done year in, year out for our community. (applause)

I take you to south India many, many years ago. There were two young brothers. The nearest school in Kerala for these brothers was in a little village six kilometres away. And the brothers would walk to school – and only the older brother got a place, the younger brother did not – the younger brother would sit outside the older brother’s classroom – and it was a hut, basically, this school – and the older brother would pass the textbooks through the window, to the younger brother.  That is the only way this younger brother could start learning. And of course eventually, the young boy got a place at school and he was very bright. He was so clever that years later, he got a scholarship to the London School of Economics. They were so poor it took the family a year to raise the money just to buy the clothes for him  to come to the UK – they had to defer his admission by a year. He came to the LSE, excelled, joined the foreign service – became head of the foreign service – and then eventually became the first dalit president of India, President Narayanan, who I had the privilege of knowing.

That story tells you that anyone can get from anywhere to anywhere. There is no stopping anyone for all the prejudices that exist, you can get anywhere. And I go back to India and I actually went to school in Trivandram for two years, to the Loyola school, a Jesuit school, when my father was commanding a battalion of Gurkhas there. And the India that I remember from my childhood was an India that was a closed country, a closed economy, inward-looking, protective. It was an India where consumers were starved of choice. It was an India which was run by a few business families, and no one else got a look-in. It was an India where people like Swraj Paul took a stand, and that took a lot of guts.

And when I set up Cobra in 1989-1990 – this is our 25th anniversary – just a little older than Indialink – I remember then, India was still that India. But I believed that India would one day open up, I believed that India would liberalise – and sure enough, in 1991 India did liberalise. Gurcharan Das, the famous author and journalist, produced a book called India Unbound. India actually was unleashed, and in spite of this liberalisation, in the 1990s the Indian political situation was very, very fluid. We had periods where you had one prime minister after another, literally one after another, and there was great instability politically, and yet in 2002 I spotted, finally, that the India growth story was taking off, and the Indian economy started to take off, where growth rates started to hit nearly 10%, well over 8%, and in 2003 I was appointed the UK chair of the Indo-British Partnership, and it was absolutely fabulous that things were finally beginning to take place.

And I founded the UK-India Business Council, and I remember then India had the BJP in power in 1999-2004, and that BJP government was doing so brilliantly economically – here was the economy booming, and yet in 2004 they were thrown out. Why? When you’re economically so successful? And of course the reason was because that growth was not seen to be inclusive enough. And you then had a congress government for ten years. And I was on PM Manmohan Singh’s advisory council for five years, and I saw that government in operation. And I saw the challenges that India has. And without a doubt, India is the most diverse country in every way – in terrain, in race, in religion, in every way it is the most diverse country in the world.

And I saw that the India that had been unleashed, one thing that powered it forward to this day, is the vibrant and free press that India has – represented here in the UK by people like Krishan Ralleigh and Indialink. And I also saw India’s capabilities, with all its challenges.

But then what about this country? This country which I came to in the early eighties, was looked upon as the sick man of Europe. This country was a country with no respect in the world economy whatsoever. I was told by my family and friends in the early eighties, that if you ever decide to stay and work after your studies, remember you will never get to the top – you will not be allowed to get to the top. You will not be allowed to get to the top because there will be a glass ceiling for you.

And they were absolutely right, three decades ago. Today we see the transformation, how that glass ceiling has been shattered. Looking around this room, people have shattered that glass ceiling. Today Britain, far from being the sick man of Europe, is the envy of Europe with a hugely successful economy.

And Britain’s soft power – I could talk for hours on Britain’s soft power. The BBC – whatever we may criticise about the BBC within Britain – we should always be grateful for the BBC. The world admires the BBC. And British music – whether it’s pop music, rock music, the Beatles, Queen, the Rolling Stones, or classical music, our Royal family, our creative industries, our sport, our schools – the most famous schools in the world, Eton, Harrow – this little country with less than 1% of the world’s population came third in the Olympics and Paralympics.

I could keep going on – our universities are the best in the world along with the United States. At any one time, one in seven world leaders have studied in the United Kingdom. Including the Greek finance minister! (laughter). The former PM of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, was a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge. You can’t buy that kind of soft power! The institutions that this country has, are just phenomenal. Just look at London’s amazing museums, the Royal Societies – just in the medical profession alone, each one of the Royal Societies – of surgeons, physicians, gynaecologists, obstetricians, oncologists, you could just go on – each one world-class.

I’m proud to be the seventh Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Anthony Eden, when he was Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, served for twenty-seven years and continued to serve even when he was Prime Minister – that wouldn’t happen today. And later this month I will be bestowing an honorary doctorate on Ajit Seth who just stepped down as Cabinet Secretary in India.

The University of Cambridge, my alma mater, has won ninety Nobel prizes, more than any other university in the world. One college at Cambridge, Trinity College, has been awarded thirty-two Nobel prizes. Another college, where Stephen Hawking is a fellow and professor, Gonville and Caius College, where Homi Bhabha went, where Sir Dorab Tata went – thirteen Nobel prizes. This is the power of British education.

I went to Milan where the world expo is taking place as we speak, and I went to speak at the opening week of the expo with the British ambassador in Italy, with the head of UK Trade  and Investment, and I went to visit our pavilion – and every country in the world has a pavilion at the expo, they are very impressive pavilions, because these pavilions are showing off that country and its capability. And do you know the most creative pavilion by far, is the British pavilion. You walk into it, it’s like walking into a garden, and there is this huge steel structure which is a beehive, with flashing lights – and the flashing lights are the movements and behaviour of a live beehive, at Nottingham University, here, which is being transmitted over there. With the queen bee and her activities, with musical humming, replicating what a beehive is doing, in this huge structure. That is how creative we are as a country – the most creative by miles in the expo.

This is the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo. I visited the battle site, just outside Brussels, earlier this year, and the Duke of Wellington – the great hero of Waterloo – his motto was, “Fortune favours the brave”. And do you know, the battle of Waterloo wasn’t just Wellington defeating Napoleon – yes, that happened, but what it really demonstrated was the power of allies. It wasn’t just the British against the French – it was the Dutch, the Germans – if Marshall Blucherthe Prussian German general, had not arrived to help Wellington, Wellington would have lost. And those allies stopped Napoleon – a brilliant man, but a man who wanted to conquer the whole of Europe – resulting in one hundred years of peace in Europe, until the dreadful First World War, the centenary of which we are commemorating. Just look at that unity and peace, and here we have Greece with its financial problems – I don’t think we should ever take for granted the European Union and the peace that it has brought in Europe.

Going back to Britain’s power – design. We are brilliant at design. The most valuable company in the world, soon to be a trillion-dollar company, the first ever, Apple. The chief designer of Apple is Sir Jonathan Ive – a Brit. Our architects – Germany is seen as the most powerful country in Europe. Well if you go and see the German parliament, the Reichstag – it was rebuilt by Lord Foster, a British architect.

The Higgs-Boson that was just discovered – by the way, Higgs is a Brit – it was discovered in Geneva at CERN, an amazing laboratory, and I was taken around CERN by Sir Tejinder Virdee – Indian origin, British professor at Imperial College, one of the heads that discovered the Higgs-Boson. And who was the other head? Professor Dave Charlton of Birmingham University. So there again, these are revolutionary findings done by people from Britain.

And by the way, when I was there I was shown the computer lab at CERN, and there was a sign saying a person who worked here discovered and created the internet in 1989 – Tim Berners-Lee, a Brit. And then there was a sign there saying in 1993 the internet would be free to use in the world. So Britain is at the heart of transforming the world. London as a financial centre, despite the financial crisis, is still the number one financial centre in the world.

And the House of Lords had a committee on soft power chaired by my noble friend Lord Howell, and speaking at the launch of this report on soft power, Lord Howell commented recently on a group of Japanese visitors given a tour of Britain, and they said what was the highlight of the visit? And they said, a visit to the Burberry store. Now there are so many British brands that are just doing so brilliantly around the world – but the British brand that Britain needs to promote more than anything else, is Britain itself – because the world does not appreciate Britain’s powers and capabilities. That’s why the Great campaign that the foreign office has got going on within Britain and around the world is necessary, and is actually becoming a huge success.

And Professor Nye of Harvard University gave evidence for the House of Lords Committee, and he said the crux of international relations today is not just whose army wins – it is also whose story wins in the information age.

And talking of armies, hard power is important as well – soft power on its own is useless without hard power. And there I think we are in a really dangerous position here in the UK, where the government is refusing to commit 2% of GDP spend on defence, which is a NATO commitment. We are one of the most powerful defence forces in the world, and yet we do not have aircraft carriers thanks to the defence review five years ago, until another five years from now. We do not have marine reconnaissance aircraft because we’ve destroyed our nimrods, and we’ve got Russian submarines coming into our waters without the capability of surveillance. We don’t have our harriers that were on our carriers. Our British army is now coming down to the level where, at 82,000, we cannot fill Wembley Stadium. And I think with all the problem we’ve got around the world, with ISIL, with what’s happening in Ukraine, we cannot afford to shrink our defence forces and we should be spending at least 2%.

This is the 200th anniversary of the Gurkhas, my father the late Lieutenant-General Bilimoria was commander-in-chief of the central Indian army but also head of the Gurkhas, President of the Gurkha Brigade in India, commanded his battalion in the liberation of Bangladesh. And a fellow Zoroastrian Parsee, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, called Sam Bahadur by the Gurkhas, said of the Gurkhas, “If a man says that he’s not afraid of dying, he’s either lying or he’s a Gurkha”(applause) And I was privileged to lead the debate on the Gurkhas on the 200th anniversary in the House of Lords, the day after the pageant at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, which was attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince Harry.

Britain has amazing capability in manufacturing as well. We have world-beating capabilities in manufacturing, but on the other hand our manufacturing is now just 10% of GDP.

We have parliamentarians now of Indian origin, represented by Lord Loomba here, Lord Paul. In 1987 when I was at Cambridge, I remember great celebrations because we had an Indian MP elected here in the UK, for the first time since India’s independence, Keith Vaz. The first Indian MPs going back to 1892, were all Parsees: Dadabhai Naoroji 1892, Sir Mancherjee Bhownaggree 1895, Shapurji Saklatvala 1922. One liberal, one conservative, one labour – and I am the first Zoroastrian Parsee in the House of Lords and I am a cross-bench peer so I have squared the circle! (laughter)

And there was one hereditary peer, Lord Sinha – those were the four Indian parliamentarians before India’s independence. Then there was a big gap, then Lord Chitnis who was at Birmingham University with my mother, a liberal peer – that was it until Keith Vaz in 1987. And I remember we celebrated the 25th anniversary of this first group of ethnic minority MPs in 1987 – in 2012 we stood on the steps of Westminster Hall, and there were sixty-nine of us on those steps. From four, to five, to sixty-nine. We’ve come a long way but we’ve got a long way to go.

Indian food we’ve been eating this evening – Cobra beer – all part of India’s soft power.

If you visit Imperial College right here in Kensington, in the middle of the college there is a tower in the quadrangle called the Queen’s Tower. In 1887 it was erected to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The first Buckingham Palace garden party was held to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. And there at the bottom of this tower, the plaque reads ‘Her Majesty, Queen Victoria – Empress of India’ – the biggest and most powerful empire the world has ever know. And yet now there is no empire. Now the army is less than Wembley Stadium’s capacity.

And we had the visit of General Dalbir Singh Suhag who is now the chief of the Indian army, from my father’s regiment, the Fifth Gurkha Rifles Frontier Force – and I was with the General here, and I said “General, how big is the Indian army today?” 1.3 million. So India has huge hard power – India needs  huge hard power. India is in an area of huge instability, and historical issues with neighbours,  issues with Sri Lanka, issues in liberating Bangladesh, issues with China, with Pakistan – India needs hard power, and PM Narendra Modi has made that a priority.

When it comes to manufacturing, it may be 10% of our GDP but PM Narendra Modi has the “Make in India” initiative where he is targeting an increase in manufacturing from 16% to 25% of GDP. And I think we should have a target of getting our manufacturing in this country to a specific percentage in the way that India has.

And talking about UK-India, I was in India  – I arrived back today and I was driving from Chandigarh via Haryana to Delhi. Driving down an amazing four-lane highway. Suddenly on the left, between Chandigarh and Delhi, we came to a town called Karnal. Karnal is not a huge city, it’s a town – and there I saw the most impressive Jaguar Land Rover showroom I have ever seen – in the world! Owned by the Tatas – and today I was with the Jaguar team – and Jaguars are great cars, I think Farokh you drive a Jaguar as well – and nobody wanted to buy Jaguar Land Rover in 2008, nobody but the Tatas – their sales fell off a cliff in the financial crisis – but they stuck by it, invested in it, in design, in innovation. I was with their chief engineer today – today Jaguar Land Rover makes more profit every year than they paid for the whole company, when nobody wanted to buy it in 2008 (applause)

And the strongest form of India’s soft power, by the way, is sitting in this room – the people of Indian origin who are now reaching the top of every field, whether it’s Governors in the United States of America, some of the wealthiest and most successful businessmen in the world, whether it’s people right here in this room – the Indian community is reaching the very top. Mastercard is run by an Indian, Ajay Banga; the new head of Deloitte, the firm of accountants, is an Indian; and I could go on, Indians now leading the world..

And of course with our two countries we’ve got cricket putting the two countries together, and no better example than my childhood hero, my lifelong hero, Farokh Engineer who’s here with us today (applause) and I’ll never forget when I first met him when I came as a student to this country and I remember, at an event at the High Commission, I was so excited about it, and I said to him ‘ You know you’re my childhood hero – I remember you as the best wicket keeper in the world’ He said ‘No no no I wasn’t the best wicket keeper in the world – I was the VERY best!’ (laughter) I knew here is somebody where a journalist said to him, “Like Don Bradman you made a century before lunch, didn’t you?” He said ‘no I didn’t I made it by hitting the first ball for six after lunch!’ He was 94 not out before lunch. This is a legend, so Farokh, thank you for being here and for being an inspiration to us all (applause) 

And of course India’s soft power, I could go on – Bollywood, Indian music, Indian classical music – Indian classical dancing – we’ve seen Polomi who performed such a beautiful dance – let’s give her a huge round of applause again (applause)

Ravi Shankar – I remember once when Ravi Shankar was speaking at the Nehru Centre, and I met him – what a legend. There he spoke about about how he communicates with an audience. He said anyone can play an impressive raga, and with great flourish, any well-trained sitarist can do that – he said, I can do that, that’s not how I’ve connected with my audience. Every string I pluck, plucks every heart of every individual in the room. That was what made him the greatest ever Indian classical musician. Those legends that India has.

Yoga! I was privileged when Prime Minister Modi made the UN have international Yoga Day on 21st June which is the summer equinox, and we had the High Commissioner in parliament and I had my fellow parliamentarian including Bob Blackman who was witness to this, we conducted Yoga in parliament. (applause) We had mindfulness, meditation, office yoga in our suits, which you can do at your desk, breathing exercises, from Shri Shri Ravi Shankar’s institution, and Wellington College where my older daughter goes to school, named after the Duke of Wellington, created by Queen Victoria – every child at Wellington College is taught mindfulness, and that of course, all from India.

And as a chancellor of University of Birmingham on the other hand, I have one bone to pick with this government, and the coalition government. And that is the immigration policy. I think that is harming UK-India relations, I think it’s harming Britains’s soft power. And I’ve seen at universities the damaging rhetoric, when Theresa May said… ‘I want every foreign student to leave the day they graduate’ George Osborne the chancellor had to step in and say no, we will not do that. Taking away the two-year post-graduation work visa from foreign students – that was a mistake. Including foreign students in immigration figures and setting a net immigration target in the tens of thousands is wrong. Foreign students are not immigrants, they’re here as students, one of the biggest exports that Britain has – £13 billion – they enrich our universities, build generation-long links, and we should not jeopardize that at all. We should be encouraging foreign students. And the British public love the fact that we have foreign students here. If you ask the British public and survey them, do you think foreign students should be allowed to work in the UK after graduation, 75% of them say yes, they should be allowed to work. So I think the government is out of tune there, they should clamp down on illegal immigration, but when it comes to foreign students we should be setting targets to increase the number of international students, especially from countries like India.

The Premier League – Manchester United has shops in India. Indians now follow British football. The exchange of academics between universities is phenomenal. I just launched an initiative with the British Council called Generation UK-India, where 25,000 British students are now going to go and experience India over the coming years. Hundreds of them a year have started doing ‘Experience India’ and they all want to go back.

The Sirius program which I helped launch is encouraging foreign graduates to come and open their businesses here in the UK. And entrepreneurship in India, look how it’s flourishing – Narayana Murthy and the charitable work that he does. Azim Premji of Wipro and thousands of schools that he has funded – this is an inspiration to us all.

So before  I conclude, I do want to talk about one individual, Mahatma Gandhi. C.B. and I were talking about Gujarat – Lord Paul says he’s just been recently – I was in Ahmdabad and Gandhinagar earlier this year and I went to Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. And there you have some of his old papers, which were brought out and it was a privilege to see them. And his whole thing was about right against might. He took on the whole British Empire and beat it, with right against might. And I always say in business, it is better to fail doing the right thing, than to succeed doing the wrong thing. And Mahatma Gandhi was a great inspiration. And keeping a country together – it is a miracle that India stays together. It is so diverse. And here, a small country like the UK, there is a danger of the UK falling apart, with the SNP now having 56 MPs whose sole objective is to break away from the United Kingdom. With the In or Out EU Referendum coming up here in Britain, I think we need to keep things together.

So before I conclude I’d just like to read this poem, my favourite poem – we just sang the Indian national anthem, well that was written by Rabindranath Tagore, a Nobel laureate from India, and my favourite poem of his is this:

Where the mind is without fear
And the Head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not broken up into fragments by narrow domestic wars
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms to earth’s perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom my father 

Let my country awake


That poem says it all about the UK, about India, about Europe. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi , he’s got a plan about democracy , demography, demand, he’s got his dreams, he says that India’s changing fast, growing fast, moving faster than expected, learning even faster, India’s readier than ever before, and yet India’s challenges are as great as ever.

Corruption still has not been eradicated, the License Raj still exists. It is a challenge, it is huge. PM Modi is all-powerful and yet he lost an election under his nose in Delhi, and now we’ve got the Bihar elections coming up this year. I contributed to a book called ‘The New Bihar’ by N.K. Singh – and in that we were trying to see how did Bihar, the state where we have a brewery – we now brew Cobra in Punjab, Haryana and Bihar – and when I started brewing in Bihar, people said, Karan you’re going to Bihar? Are you serious? Have you got armed guards? Have you got kidnap insurance? And of course they were talking about the Bihar of over a decade ago. The Bihar now under Nitish Kumar, to his credit, crime went down six times in six years. Bihar is now a completely different Bihar to the perception people have. And it’s about governance, it’s about growth, it’s about inclusiveness, it’s about investment.

And I’m delighted that PM Modi is now going to be coming to the UK. I hope it’s definite – I believe it’ll be later this year in the autumn, because the last official PM visit we had from an Indian PM, I chaired the UK-India Investment Summit between PM Tony Blair and Dr Manmohan Singh at Lancaster House in 2006. So my message to PM Modi is please come to Britain, we’re waiting to receive you.

Earlier this week, I was driving from the brewery in Bihar to Patna, through rural India. And there I saw four mobile phone masts in a village, and there as the sun was setting, I saw three buffaloes with children riding on their backs, returning from the fields to the village. Hundreds of millions of mobile phone users, the biggest in the world – Vodafone is now number two in the world thanks to India. And there juxtaposed with that, children on buffaloes – a scene you would have seen thousands of years ago in India. That is the magic of India, that is the miracle of India.

PM Narendra Modi is a brilliant orator in Hindi, and in his speeches he often uses the word takhat – strength, power, and Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University says that if you have the combination of hard power and soft power, you have smart power. And I think Britain has smart power. And I think India has smart power. Together we can be the smartest of powers.

And so, where Mahatma Gandhi is concerned, I conclude, I was very proud to be on the committee which set up the statue, we had our first meeting in July and the statue was built in March – government can move quickly when it wants to. And my favourite quote of Mahatma Gandhi’s, if I may paraphrase it – is this – because I believe in India and the UK and their potential, together in the future, because:

Your beliefs become your thoughts,

your thoughts become your words,

your words become your actions,

your actions become your habits,

your habits form your character,

and your character determines your destiny.

Thank you very much Krishan, and congratulations to you.



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