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The Good news about India

Anthony Good consults his neatly written travel log in his diary and reveals that he is now on his 345th trip to India.

The urbane chairman of Cox & Kings, the travel company now celebrating the 250th anniversary of its establishment in India as an “army agent”, was one of 100 senior British businessmen who last week accompanied Lord (Peter) Mandelson, the British business secretary, on the first high-powered trade delegation to travel to India since the Mumbai attacks.

Good is a director of the UK India Business which helped organise the mission and which was established to promote bilateral trade between the two countries.

The first time Good came to India was in 1970 when Grindlays Bank bought Cox & Kings. “My company, Good Relations, in the UK got a contract from Grindlays to turn Cox & Kings from a relic of the empire into a vibrant new tour operator, specialising in bringing people to India.”

Good, who is now on the board of four Indian companies and chairs three of them, including Good Relations India, has become a respected figure in Indian business circles.

Good does not think terrorism will much affect tourism. “People are getting so inured to terrorism that today’s news becomes tomorrow’s fish and chip wrappers. A certain number of people coming out of the UK did not cancel their trip but asked to be diverted round Bombay.”

He adds: “One has to remember that only two per cent of tourists to India visit Bombay. The BBC was referring in its television coverage to the Taj and the Oberoi as the two major tourist hotels in Bombay. That’s not the case. They are the two leading business hotels.”

Good also points out. “Since liberalisation by the Indian government in 1999, our Indian office sent around 4,000 people out of India on trips to various parts of the world. The UK office sent around 15,000 people out of the UK — India was a major destination. Last year the UK offices did around 16,500. The Indian offices sent 287,000 out of India to Europe, UK, the US, to Asia and to Australia. You don’t need me to tell you Indians are great world travellers and now they have the means to do so. I can only see outbound tourism increasing significantly.”

Only his travel bucks the trend.

“My first trip last year in January was my 333rd,” Good tells me.

He returned in February, twice in April, twice in June, July, August, September, October, November and December, making 12 trips in 2008. “This is my 345th.”

 

Scotland calling

Strathallan, a co-educational public school in Scotland, set in 150 acres in Forgandenny, Perth, “an hour from Glasgow”, is actively looking for pupils in India.

Its director of marketing and development, Tessa Howard-Vyse, has been in India meeting prospective parents as well as possible educational agents,

Tessa makes Strathallan sound like something out of Enid Blyton: “There is definitely a feeling as you go down that drive.”

In any case, I am hopefully pro-Scottish, having had both parents who were at Scottish Church College in Calcutta and myself having worked for three very happy years for the Glasgow Herald based at 56, Fleet Street.

Founded in 1913, Strathallan has 504 pupils, including 89, aged 9 to 13, in the junior section (fees £5,500 per term) and 415, aged 13 to 18, in senior school (fees £7,840). Colin Montgomery, the golfer, is a former pupil.

Strathallan has 68 overseas students from 22 countries but none from India.

“With the Indian culture I am very keen to build relationships whether it is through a scholarship programme or an exchange programme,” asserts Tessa. “We benefit culturally from having them with us. The pupils benefit from having the different cultures at school.”

She explains that “the ethos of Strathallan is that we believe there are opportunities for all to excel at something. We do no testing, no exams to get in.”

According to Tessa, the school gives attention to drama, has “a fantastic music department” (“we have been invited by the Queen”) and a tennis academy and strives to give its children “a very rounded education”.

Indian parents may wish to take note of Tessa’s comment: “We have a very good scholarship and bursary programme to help pupils from poor backgrounds. The ones who are very gifted get a scholarship.”

She says: “The reason why India is so appealing to us is that the British and the Indian educational systems in the private sector are very, very similar. But from Strathallan’s point of view it is so much more than that. It is about finding a child who is going to blossom.”

 

Dress rehearsal

How different Naina Lal Kidwai, one of the most important women in Indian corporate finance, looks in England and in India.

Last autumn, when she addressed an international gathering of chartered accountants in London on the subject of the Indian economy, she looked the part as general manager and country head of HSBC India in a charcoal grey trouser suit.

“I wear saris in India,” she told me at the time.

Last week, “she looked feminine in a sari,” according to businessmen from the UK who were members of the Mandelson mission to India.

At a panel discussion on innovation organised by the UK India Business Council in Delhi, she wore a beige-coloured sari — which probably had the edge on the trouser suit she wore in London.

 

Double act

When Lord (Peter) Mandelson, the British business secretary, and Kamal Nath, India’s commerce minister, retire from political life, they could easily go on the road to do an entertaining comedy double act.

The two are old sparring partners and frequently clashed when, as the European Union’s trade commissioner, Mandelson failed to push Kamal Nath into allowing more agricultural produce from Europe into India.

Mandelson led a week-long mission to India — a long time for a senior British cabinet minister to spend away from London — by addressing the CII in Delhi last week.

Then, he raised British eyebrows by walking out of the conference hall before Kamal Nath would make a speech on behalf of India. Some thought Mandelson had breached protocol but later that evening at the British High Commissioner’s residence, the two rivals once again seemed the best of friends.

In Mumbai, Mandelson opened the UK India Business Council’s new offices in the Bandra Kurla Complex and appeared genuinely impressed by “a seriously serious city”.

In between he saw the Nano at the Tata plant in Pune. However, he would not be drawn on whether he would give Jaguar Land Rover the billion pounds the Tata-owned company had requested back in the UK.

The answer will probably have to be a yes.

 

Tittle tattle

What next for Arun Sarin, high flying chief executive of Vodafone until his resignation in summer last year?

All that can be confirmed is that Sarin was in Delhi last week and spotted chatting away to Lord Mandelson at the British High Commissioner’s dinner.

I checked with a relative who was Sarin’s batchmate at IIT Kharagpur.

Any unflattering secrets he could divulge?

The answer was: “No, I’m afraid he was a good boy.”

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