Anyone who says he counts R K Narayan among his favourite authors has to be a friend of India. So, when the UK’s new business secretary, Vince Cable, visits India later this week with Prime Minister David Cameron and other senior cabinet colleagues, there will be little need to break ice. Not just because Cable likes Narayan, but he has been in touch with India for nearly four decades now.
For starters, the parents of his late wife are from India. When his party Liberal Democrats sewed a difficult and hotly debated post-election alliance with the Conservatives in the first week of May to form a rare coalition government in Britain, Cable said: “My Indian in-laws always told me arranged marriages last longer than love matches.”
Narayan and arranged marriages apart, Cable will have yet another edge in winning over India. He talks about India’s “green revolution”. That ought to make him old and wise enough to understand an India that is seen beyond the early 1990s economic liberalisation. He, therefore, can be counted as among the few western politicians who understands India more than for its 1.2 billion-population market and know its true potential outside business and industry. He deftly seals the deal when he defends the UK’s recent proposal to cut development aid to India and says it is a recognition of India’s success story. Now, who can argue with that?
Cable succeeds Peter Mandelson, who was Labour’s favourite spin-doctor and was a high-profile cabinet member.
When in India later this week, Cable is expected to say one thing every small and big businesses in India wants to hear. “We are open for business.” Under the 13-year Labour regime, a lot was left to be desired for economic/trade relations between India and the UK. As a matter of fact, Indian businesses were a shade more ambitious in the UK than UK businesses in India. Cable says it’s a two-way street from now on and the focus of the new Tory-Lib Dem government will be to improve the flow of investments both ways.
Cable, 67, during his formative years as an economist, says he travelled across the length and breadth of India. His understanding of India is first hand and he has never fallen out of touch with India. A big admirer of India’s economic success, he says the new relationship with India will be rooted to the ground.
As a student, Cable read natural science and economics at Cambridge University followed by a PhD at Glasgow University. Between 1966 and 1968, he worked as Treasury Finance Officer for the Kenyan government and later spent two years as a first secretary in the diplomatic service in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. After a few more stints in the government, he moved to the private sector with Shell International in 1990 and became the energy giant’s chief economist in 1995. He later became a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Global Governance at the London School of Economics for three years until 2004.
A straight-talking Cable has one other rare quality among his British peers that is more common in India. This Lib Dem minister started his political career with Labour. He served as a Labour Councillor in Glasgow between 1971 and 1974, before joining the Social Democrat Party (which was merged with the Liberal Party in the 1980s). He was first elected to Parliament in 1997 and joined the Lib Dem shadow cabinet in 1999. He had been the Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor since November 2003 and is currently Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats.
He shot to global fame, with the release of his book The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What it Means in 2009. As early as 2003, he is considered to have predicted the coming of the global financial crisis that the world has just about managed to recover from. After being in politics for nearly four decades and for the first time tasting real power, there is little reason to believe that his peers, both at home and outside, will ignore the words of caution from “Saint Vince”.