India-Britain: The year of Tata, Brown Bounce and cricket (Yearender - 22)

December 30th, 2008 - 3:20 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 30 (IANS) The paths of India and Britain converged ever closer in 2008, the highs in their mutual ties embracing everything from the fight against recession and terrorism to playing riveting cricket.Whether it was growing trade and business between the two countries, worrying over the global economy or lauding the shared values of liberal democracy, India and Britain seemed to be singing from the same hymn sheet all the way.

The year began on a high.

Globalisation with its offer of open borders meant the interests of India and Britain showed signs of melding early on in the year, with Tata Motors emerging the strongest bidder to buy Jaguar and Land Rover (JLR), the troubled British carmakers.

For weeks the deal hung in balance, as ministers egged on negotiators, daring them to think big.

“When you read, as I do, that Tata may well buy Jaguar, and they own (the steel company) Corus, and the major component of a motorcar is steel, you’ve got to start thinking to yourself, ‘there’s something made in heaven here - a match’,” then British minister for trade and investment Digby Jones told IANS in January.

Following prolonged negotiations with union bosses, the deal was sealed June 2, when Tata bought the iconic British brands from American Ford Motor Company for $2.3 billion.

The acquisition, praised for saving tens of thousands of British jobs while bringing India Inc. to the global business stage, helped spin out dreams of a major thrust by Indian companies in Britain, who were now expected to emulate the success of the Japanese two decades ago.

But the US sub-prime crisis swamped Britain with a speed and ferocity that caught fancied economists and seasoned politicians unawares.

The auto industry in Britain - a key guide to a nation’s economic health - suffered as consumers held back from buying new cars. JLR management was forced to freeze production in a bid to avoid stockpiling unsold cars, sacked up to 850 workers and sent employees home in order to save cash.

The shine was already fading around what had begun as a feel-good story. By November the British auto industry led by Tata-owned JLR was pleading with the British government, cap in hand, for a major cash injection to help the sector survive.

The downturn for the Tatas came amid a rise in the fortunes of British Premier Gordon Brown.

Written off in the autumn of 2007 as a dour political ditherer who couldn’t make up his mind if and when to call elections, Brown came into his own in the summer of 2008 as the credit crunch deepened and spread across Britain.

Brown came up with bold rescue plans - based on public private partnerships - to bail out a string of large banks teetering on the brink of collapse, bringing once-derided ideas of state intervention back on to the centre-stage of Western economic policy.

The US quickly followed suit and suddenly Brown was an international hero, with the media hailing what it dubbed the Brown Bounce.

Thousands of kilometers away, Brown’s economic policies had the support of India’s economist-premier Manmohan Singh.

Speaking at an emergency summit held in Washington in November, Manmohan Singh spoke of “the harm that excessive speculation can do” and quoted from British economist John Maynard Keynes, whose prescriptions for fiscal and monetary interventions are said to inspire Brown.

The year ended rather more somberly than it had begun - but with a common thread: the Tatas, increasingly the brand that India Inc is recognised by.

When terrorists attacked Mumbai Nov 26, among the high-profile targets they chose was the Tata-owned Taj Hotel.

In the days that followed Brown rushed to Delhi to extend solidarity, and Manmohan Singh spoke of the need to defend the values that India and Britain share - “liberal democracies, pursuit of secular ideals, pluralism and all that we associate with freedom, the rule of law and human rights.”

In the midst of the mayhem the England cricket team made a brave - and much-lauded - decision to return to India and complete its tour. And on Dec 15, when Sachin Tendulkar dedicated his match-winning century to the city of Mumbai, there was quiet satisfaction in both camps.

At the close of 2008, cricket - an English game that is now led by India - had won the day over terror. It brought a calming and reassuring end to a year filled with uncertainty and violence.

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