By Karan Bilimoria
When I left India 25 years ago, it was for my higher education. Like so many of my friends and contemporaries, I saw opportunities overseas and followed them. Indeed, part of the reason I came to Britain was that three generations of family members had come to Britain to study, and so it was very much a natural choice for me as well.
I have never regretted leaving India for Britain, and for choosing to start my family and build my business here. Britain, and London especially, have been extraordinarily good to me. It is impossible not to notice, however, just how much India has changed since I left, and how phenomenal its emergence onto the world stage has been.
India, as we all know, has really come into its own since liberalisation began in 1991, and by the same token Britain has also thrived, going from the sick man of Europe to the envy of Europe in the past two and a half decades.
At the same time, non-resident Indians (NRIs) all around the world have also come into their own. In Britain, I think especially, the community has blossomed, and NRIs are now reaching the top in every field, be it politics, academia, sport or the professions.
I remember when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in London last October for the first ever India-UK Investment Summit, he gave a speech to a group of NRIs at the high commissioner's residence, and in his speech he said how proud India is of its NRIs.
The prime minister was certainly right to say so because there is a great deal to be proud of about the diaspora's success, and he was accurate in his observation because we have reached a point now where India truly respects the contribution of its NRIs. Although people who left India as I did may have sensed resentment, there is closer integration, appreciation and understanding between India and NRIs now than there has ever been.
I would go further and say that the reverse of the prime minister's statement is equally true and that the NRIs are immensely proud of India.
What exists now is a true respect for NRIs by India and respect by NRIs for India. I have learned in life that for any relationship to be truly sustainable and successful, whether it is a marriage or a business relationship or a relationship between countries or people, it is mutual respect that is essential, and that mutual respect between NRIs and India truly exists today.
This engagement has come a long way since I left India, but we need to take it to new and greater levels. With India growing at such a rapid rate, there has never been a better time for India and NRIs to reach out to one another. In Britain, I chair the Indo-British Partnership (IBP), which was founded by prime ministers John Major and Narasimha Rao in 1993.
In 2005, I founded and began chairing the Indo-British Partnership Network (IBPN), which was set up to take the IBP initiative forward. The IBPN works to increase trade, business and investment between Britain and India both ways. The IBPN has been a great success thus far, but there is so much potential to do more.
By the same token, in India, there is always the scope to continue raising the bar. Although we have the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas every year, which is an excellent, proactive initiative by the government of India, we can take the involvement of NRIs in India even further.
In Britain, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who is set to become prime minister this year, last year formed his International Business Advisory Council, including senior business leaders like Ratan Tata, the CEOs of eBay and GlaxoSmithKline, and many others.
I think that India could form a similar council involving NRIs, bringing the expertise and experience of the world's leading NRIs to bear on India's challenges.
Harnessing the ability of the global NRI community could be a real boon for India, both in the experience and in the business that they could bring "home", as it were. Even my own little company, Cobra Beer, which I started in 1990, has become a true NRI company. When I started Cobra, we brewed in India and exported to Britain, but in 2005, we began brewing in India, for India, for the first time.
We saw how India's economic growth had taken off since 2002, and we saw the marvellous opportunities for business in the country, and it made perfect sense to us to take Cobra home.
Cobra's example is just a small indication of what is happening in India, but this amazing growth is something that the world now wants to be a part of, and something to which every NRI should want to contribute.
India's success hasn't come overnight, and indeed the country still has a long way to go to meet the many challenges it faces. But in every area, NRIs have a contribution to make.
Whether in bringing business to India, advising government, or continuing to represent India abroad, NRIs have so much to contribute to the land they have always kept in their hearts.
I am confident that with the mutual respect that India and her NRIs now share, and with the energy, the engagement and with the strong sense of identity and pride we now see, the new global India and the global Indian community will be unstoppable.
(Karan Bilimoria is the member of the House of Lords in Britain and founder of Cobra Beer. He can be contacted at [email protected])