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Since 1st March, 1999
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India goes calling with jobs for Britain's Kashmir
- The morning after Manmohan touchdown, London wakes up to news of HCL facility in Belfast

London, Sept. 21: A day after the Manmohan Singh-Tony Blair talks in London, when it was emphasised that India is now the eighth largest investor in the UK, it has been disclosed that an Indian technology firm is to set up a call centre in Northern Ireland with the creation of 250 jobs.

Since there has been a great deal of hostile publicity about the more usual flow of jobs from Britain to India, this is seen as a small move towards correcting the imbalance.

The call centre is being set up in Belfast, once one of the world's most troubled cities, by HCL BPO, which is investing '1.9 million in the centre. Today's Daily Mirror said HCL BPO already employs 1,000 people at another call centre in south Belfast, an operation it took over from British Telecom in 2001.

The news was greeted with delight by Barry Gardiner, parliamentary under secretary for Northern Ireland who met the Indian Prime Minister yesterday as part of a delegation from Labour Friends of India.

Gardiner, who is a fixture at Indian functions possibly because he has to keep on the right side of his many Gujarati voters in his Brent North constituency, was the founding chairman of Labour Friends of India. He is now its secretary.

He said that the Indian investment was 'especially significant as it reverses the trend'. Gardiner added: 'Here we have a leading company from India investing in Northern Ireland.'

Northern Ireland has been the UK equivalent of India's Kashmir because of a long-running militant campaign by the Irish Republican Army which has sometimes spilled over into the British mainland with terrible consequences.

But all sides are now involved in protracted talks which have brought relative peace to the province. As part of the deal, the British government has released many IRA activists from prison in a brave but risky attempt to create goodwill among men of violence.

It has also taken courage for an Indian firm to go into Northern Ireland when it could easily have gone elsewhere. It is like the British choosing to invest in Kashmir.

Gardiner said HCL wanted to increase its business in Europe and America and that expansion in Belfast would consolidate the city as its key European base.

Ranjit Narasimhan, the HCL boss in Ulster, told the Mirror: 'Belfast is an integral part of our business development strategy.'

The firm employs 13,000 people worldwide, including a software operation in England, and has sales of more than '571million.

To be fair to the British government, Blair and his senior cabinet ministers have resisted union pressure aimed at preventing the outsourcing of jobs to India. The British ministers have argued that what is good for India is also good for Britain and that in a global economy, it is simply counter-productive to try to legislate against outsourcing.

Stating that India had no intention of slipping back into protectionist isolation, Manmohan Singh had also urged the West not to contemplate such legislation. 'Any attempt in the West, especially in America, would fly in the face of globalisation and could cost thousands of companies their competitive edge,' he said this week in an interview.

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