From ‘bhujiya to Rolls-Royce

Even as BJP-ruled India is adopting swadeshi, Britain is abandoning it. Rolls-Royce, long the ultimate symbol of British manufacturing prowess, has been sold to Germany’s BMW (and Volkswagen is trying to come in with a still higher bid). With this, no British-owned company makes passenger cars any more.

Yet Britain is not mourning the end of the swadeshi car. No British equivalent of the Swadeshi Jagran Manch is beating its breast about the sad fate of a country that spear-headed the industrial revolution. Indeed, Britain is rather proud of its car industry, which is one of the most modern and competitive in Europe. Its competitive car manufacturers happen to be Nissan, Honda, Toyota, General Motors (GM) and Ford, and now BMW. British-owned car producers have proved uneconomic, and have disappeared one by one. They have been replaced by videshi-owned ones, that produce better cars at lower prices and increased employment.

Britain regards these as constituting its own car industry. The factories pre in Britain, the jobs are in Britain, the customers are substantially in Britain, the exports and all other side-benefits go to Britain. True, the owners are foreign. So What? The British regard GM’s Vauxhall car as their own.

Attitudes were different four decades ago. Many of the foreign companies that have entered Britain in recent decades are from Germany and Japan, the two countries Britain beat in World War II. Maybe in the old days, the British would have found it intolerable to have their car industry owned by defeated races. Fortunately, those days of jingoism are over in Britain.

In India, alas, they are very much here. Britain has stopped fighting Nazi Germany, but India is still fighting the East India Company. The RSS fears even the marketing of bhujiya by Pepsi. I am often asked ‘Are you so naive that you think foreigners can possibly be coming here for India’s good?’ Of course not. Foreigners come here to make a commercial living, as they do in Britain. Their aim is not social service, but to produce for a profit. Provided competitive conditions exist, they can make a profit only if they upgrade skills, improve productivity, bring in efficient forms of organisation, and improve quality, all at a competitive price. And any foreign investor that does so surely benefits the recipient country. The self-interest of the foreign company become the public interest of the recipient nation.

Britain understands that fully. Would it be better off protecting inefficient British lotas’] Not even the Labour Party thinks so, since competitive videshis have created many more jobs than uncompetitive swadeshis.

Had something like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch existed in Britain, it would have condemned the invasion of German and Japanese manufacturers as World War II in reverse, as humiliation by the ghost of Hitler and Hirohito.The equivalent of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would have organised demonstrations against Hilter-ke-aulad. It would have demanded the demolition of the foreign car factories at the sacred birthplace of Morris, Austin, and others, and their replacement by swadeshi icons.

Fortunately, the British have grown up. We have not.

The car industry is not an isolated example. Britain pioneered the motor-cycle, yet has no big-name manufacturer left. A country that once ruled the waves has seen its historic shipyards close down. But far from bemoaning the death of swadeshi industry, the British are celebrating an economic boom. The pound sterling is just about the strongest currency in the world, and has appreciated against even the mighty dollar. Unemployment has fallen to 4.9 per cent, the lowest in the European Community (it is 20.3 per cent in Spain, 12.1 per cent in France and 11.5 per cent in Germany).

It was not always so. In pre-Thatcher days, you had ‘Buy Britain’ campaigns, with swadeshi manufacturers demanding ever-higher subsidies in the national interest. Far from kindling national pride, these appeals to patriotism created a sense of decline’ in Britons. If you cannot sell goods save on the grounds of patriotism, you must really be in bad shape.

Those days are now gone. The British are rather pleased with their economic revival, their economic dynamism in the middle of widespread European sloth. It matters not at all that much of the dynamism has come from foreign investment.

Britain is not alone. Germany once dominated the world camera industry. The US once dominated TV. Today the German camera has all, but disappeared, and not a single American-owned company makes TVs in the US any more (some have, of course, shifted to Third World countries).

Oh, says the RSS, that is all very well for countries that are already developed. But surely developing nations dare not take such a path? Surely, they will end up becoming neo-colonial puppets?

For an answer, just look at the countries that have been most open about attracting foreign investment. In Singapore, more than 80 per cent of manufacturing and exports are done by multinationals. In consequence, it boasts a per capita income of $ 27,000. Hong Kong, which is even more open for foreigners, has a per capita income of $ 23,000. By contrast their old colonial master, Britain has a per capita income of only $19,000.

Neither Singapore nor Britain feel they nave been demeaned by dominant foreign investment in some areas. They do confuse the prestige of the nation with that of their lalas: They are clear that the condition of consumers, workers and managers matters more. Such clarity is not common in India.

But do you not want great Indian producers, asks the RSS. Of course I do. But 1 am confident that Indians can compete with the best in the world: They are doing so in all corners of the globe. They are at the top of so many fields in the US, UK, Indonesia and elsewhere. They have failed only in India because of the lousy conditions we created in the last four decades. The answer is to create world-class conditions in India.

British manufacturing may be past its prime, yet it has world- class brands: the City, the Baltic Exchange, BBC, The Financial Times, The Economist, British Airways, the Spice Girls, Oasis, Merchant-Ivory Productions, Princess Diana. Note these are all service industries, not manufacturing ones. This underlines Britain’s successful shift to a post-industrial society.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for the Swadeshi bunch in India. India, too, is becoming a service- dominated economy: 42 per cent of its GDP now consists of services, against 29 per cent for industry. Many of our services are already world class, and no foreign competitor can hope to compete.

We have the biggest film industry in the world. Lata Mangeshkar has sold more records than anyone else. Our computer software industry is a rising star. The Economic Times (excuse us for blowing our trumpet) has a higher circulation than the Financial Times of London. Zee TV has beaten Star TV hollow.

Best of all, Arundhati Roy and Salman Rushdie have won the Booker Prize. Britain would not have been better off if it had protected swadeshi authors from Indians. Or refused entry to steel baron Lakshmi Niwas Mittal on the ground that he was richer than Queen Elizabeth.

What do you think?