India Is Entering A New Golden Age, 70 Years After Independence

29/08/2017 11:01 BST | Updated 29/08/2017 11:01 BST
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India's 70th anniversary celebrations have a special resonance for me - I was born in Delhi just after partition, so India's story has also been my story.

Growing up in this new country, I remember a real sense of hope. We had just gained our independence and, despite all the problems with Partition, the violence and people losing their livelihoods, we trusted in destiny; the Hindu religion is based on Karma.

Looking back 70 years later, it's amazing what India has achieved since those early days of independence. I'm very optimistic about the country's future - I think it will be a 21st century powerhouse, not only the world's biggest democracy but also a thriving economic force.

India's first prime minister, Jawaharial Nehru, built strong foundations for the new state. He was a great visionary who made education one of his biggest priorities and built up the country's heavy industry. We are seeing the benefits of that approach today; India has a strong engineering heritage and its legacy is apparent in the success of the car manufacturing industry. It was an early adopter when the software revolution changed the face of business and call centres became a growth industry.

Today, India is a country of start-ups. Crowdfunding has become a huge source of capital and funds are closing within days of being launched. It has a very young population, in contrast to China, and with a growth rate of 7-9%, young people feel they can fulfil their ambitions.

It has not always been a smooth journey over the country's first seven decades and I remember the huge foreign exchange crisis in 1991 when the government had to airlift gold reserves to the Treasury in London to borrow money and secure an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund. But the economy recovered and you could say modern India was born in the 1990s; the bureaucracy, which had been very strong in the 1960s and 1970s was brought under control, allowing enterprise to flourish.

With its huge consumer market, India has always offered huge potential for leading international brands, but some made the mistake of under-estimating the Indian consumer. I brought adidas to India for the first time, but to start with they didn't get their strategy right. They didn't want to sell their shoes above a certain price because they didn't think customers would be able to afford them. But Indian consumers are aspirational and want the best, not to be sold something cheaper and inferior. They would rather buy one top-of-the-range pair of trainers than four pairs of poorer quality.

These days, every leading international brand is available and if you go into the Alpha One Mall in Ahmedabad, which my company developed, you could easily mistake it for Westfield or another similar shopping centre in the UK.

People often talk about India and China battling for supremacy in the years ahead as the world's two biggest economies, but India has two big advantages over China: a younger population and the rule of law. In India, even the most powerful leader can be overthrown; that's vital for the economic and political health of a nation.

Prime Minister Modi is a very progressive, honest politician who has taken the country to a different level. His Make In India programme, encouraging companies to manufacture products in the country, taking advantage of its low cost base, has been a huge success. I believe this is the start of a golden period for India and for the next 20 years you will see huge progress.

I hope we will also see closer ties between the UK and India. I first visited England in 1962, as a boy, and it has been my home for some years now. There has always been a sense of friendship and partnership between our two countries - even in the days immediately after independence - and there's no reason that should change. Most Indians speak English, it's the language of business, and when they play Monopoly they're still buying London properties!

I predict Brexit will be good for the UK and India. There will be a healthy relationship, which is mutually profitable. Seventy years after independence, it will put relations between the two countries on a new footing and both will benefit from it.