London, Dec. 1: After a week in India, starting in Delhi, then flying to Hyderabad and finishing in Mumbai, Boris Johnson, mayor of London, was flying back to London today, having richly entertained the crowds.
It’s a great pity that Calcutta got left out because Bengalis would have been on his wavelength and got most of his jokes.
Whether he manages to attract any more Indian investment into London remains to be seen, but as far as the British public is concerned, the trip has been a triumph for Brand Boris.
Just the sheer volume of coverage he has attracted in the British media has been unprecedented in modern times. It’s helped that a contingent of British reporters, photographers and TV camerapersons has been travelling with him.
There has been a wealth of images from India of Boris playing cricket in the garden of the British High Commissioner’s residence in Delhi and on Juhu beach, posing with children in Delhi or knocking around a football with them on behalf of the Magic Bus charity and cycling around the Gateway of India in Mumbai.
The London Evening Standard, whose City Hall editor Pippa Crerar has been doing nearly daily spreads on Boris, quoted television presenter Arnab Goswami as telling the mayor when the latter appeared on his show: “When are you going to be running for a bigger job? It’s generally believed you’re very ambitious. I can’t believe that a 48-year-old up-and-coming politician, who has the momentum behind him, is going to let go of the chance to lead the Tory party, or even become Prime Minister.”
Boris batted him away, pointing out: “Three and a half years (his unexpired term as mayor) is a long time in politics. We’ll see what happens.”
But Goswami came back: “I have a sense we are possibly talking to a future prime minister.”
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi have probably erred in not taking the opportunity to be photographed with Boris who has made quite a few pro-Indian noises during the past few days.
On the flight back to Heathrow today, Boris will probably set aside an hour to knock out his Monday column in The Daily Telegraph. But in the past few days, he has set out his views on several important issues.
For example, he has taken the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government to task for restricting student visas. He has also urged chancellor George Osborne to copy India by reducing the top rate of tax from 40 per cent to nearer 30 per cent for entrepreneurs.
Boris, who wants a third airport in London to be built on the Thames estuary rather than permit the expansion of Heathrow, held up the design of Hyderabad airport as inspirational.
No doubt all visitors tend to flatter their hosts but Boris appears to be a convincing cheerleader for India.
He also stuck up loyally for his friend Lakshmi Mittal, when the French industry minister Arnaud Montebourg, angered by ArcelorMittal’s plans to shut down plants in eastern France, told the steel tycoon: “We don’t want Mittal in France anymore because they haven’t respected France.”
A random trawl of British newspapers demonstrates Boris has done a tremendous PR job for India — and for London:
He (Boris) also argued that London had more to offer than New York, saying it has twice as many bookshops as New York (with the correct spellings, he added cheekily) and a quarter of its murder rate.
“We’ve exported (TV presenter and former Daily Mirror editor) Piers Morgan to America,” he chortled.
Mr Johnson said there were 73 Indian companies on the London Stock Exchange, adding: “It’s the innovation capital of the world.” He even claimed that Britain exports rice to India, but dubbed that “one of the facts too good to check.”
The Daily Telegraph
He announced that two Bollywood films will be shot in London next year as part of a bid to bring the Indian film industry to the British capital. He offered tax breaks, co-operation on clearing streets and spoke of “the huge audiences that Indian films have in London”.
Producer Sajid Nadiadwala says he will film two films, including the latest in the hugely successful Housefull series in London. Besides Housefull 3 starring Akshay Kumar, Nadiadwala will shoot Kick in London.
Men should never try to compare the size of their metro systems, he joked at a press conference with India’s urban development minister.
MJ Akbar, one of India’s best known newspaper editors, said: “It’s not about deeper Anglo-Indian relations or anything like that, it’s just Boris.”
(It was) half past seven in the evening in the Sapphire Ballroom of the five-star Taj Krishna hotel in the central Indian city of Hyderabad:
“He was very charming and had a very good sense of humour,” said TR Srinivasan, business development manager for an engineering firm looking to set up an operation in the UK.
Shipra Sharma, who runs an educational institute in the north-western city of Jaipur, had travelled half way across the country for the “networking opportunity”.
“I’ve never seen a local Indian politician talk like that,” she told The Guardian. “He had really done his homework. And he was extremely observant too.”
Francois Hollande was due to hold crisis talks with Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal today after Boris Johnson encouraged him to give up France and move to Britain.
The London Mayor accused the Socialist government in Paris of acting like working class revolutionaries — or ‘sans culottes’ — after telling Mittal, one of the richest men in the world, to get out of their country.
On Monday, President Hollande’s industry minister Arnaud Montebourg accused Mr Mittal’s company, ArcelorMittal, of ‘lying’ and ‘blackmail’ and suggested he left, along with his 20,000 jobs.
This prompted Mr Johnson to tell a meeting of Indian business leaders: “The sans-culottes appear to have captured the government in Paris. I have no hesitation in saying here, Venez Londres, mes amis!” which translates as “Come to London, my friends!”