OPINION

Wooing India, Welsh style out of Cardiff

Hasan Suroor

Wales trying to catch up with England in claiming a piece of the Indian action.

You’re not likely to find many Indian faces on the streets of Cardiff — the dour maritime capital of Wales — but in the corridors of power, minds are very much concentrated on India as the Welsh Government tries to catch up with England and Scotland in claiming a piece of the Indian action.

Rhodri Morgan, the feisty First Minister who heads the Welsh government, admits that his country has been rather late in recognising the importance of India as a new “mega” power.

“We were advised to get into India much earlier but we didn’t anticipate the speed of India’s development,” he says. So, while with China his government’s “honeymoon phase has nicely slipped into a marriage” relations with India are still at the pre-honeymoon stage.

“No, the honeymoon with India hasn’t started yet,” Mr. Morgan said in a candidly downbeat assessment of Wales’ relationship with New Delhi while speaking to a group of London-based Indian journalists as a Welsh trade mission prepared to travel to India.

This is the first-ever India-centred initiative that the Welsh government has taken though Wales has had a devolved administration since 1999 with powers to enter into bilateral relations with other countries. Successive Welsh governments — all led by the Labour Party — neglected India. (The current dispensation is jointly run by Mr. Morgan’s Labour Party and the nationalist Plaid Cymru.) In contrast, Scotland, which got devolution at the same time, caught the early bird and today boasts of dynamic political and economic ties with India.

“It is a wake-up call for us,” Mr. Morgan says putting his hands up and delivering a series of self-deprecating mea culpas.

The mission, led by Deputy First Minister Leuan Wyn Jones and comprising representatives of 20 companies, will visit New Delhi and Mumbai but apparently, India is playing hard to get. With barely a week to go, it is still not confirmed who, in New Delhi, is willing to meet the visitors. At least two senior Cabinet Ministers they were keen on meeting are reportedly not available.

The news from Mumbai, where the Welsh are hosting a dinner for a group of Indian businessmen, is not good either.

“We are still waiting for confirmation from most of the invitees. But I am told this is how they do things in India and finally everything will work just fine,” says Mark Powell, head of government business, barely able to hide his panic.

Back in his office in the National Assembly, Mr. Morgan puts on a brave face. He says he can understand India’s lack of enthusiasm for Wales.

“As a small country of just three million people we do have a profile problem.”

Mr. Morgan acknowledges that a country of India’s size and potential will not rush to embrace Wales and that it is going to be a slow process. Also he does not have unrealistic expectations from the visit which he describes as a “probing mission” aimed at exploring areas of possible cooperation. “It is about finding a suitable peg to raise our profile in India,” he says.

Lacking in focus

But even as a probing mission it seems too diffused, and lacks focus. Everything from trade, education, and Bollywood is on the agenda but with no clear priority. This lack of clarity verges almost on confusion in “creative business.” There is a lot of breathless talk about establishing links with Bollywood but few appear to have any idea of the sort of relationship they want to have with the Indian film industry. There is also a great deal of ignorance about Bollywood even among senior figures in the Welsh film Establishment.

In an almost jaw-dropping gaffe, Rob Thomas, Head of Creative Business, Wales, said Welsh film-makers could benefit from Bollywood’s production methods! When it was pointed out that most of Bollywood films were made in the most chaotic conditions, with no attention paid to health and safety standards, Mr. Thomas started to waffle.

“What I mean is that they have cost-effective way of solving problems. For example, we want to see how a low-budget film can be made to look good,” he said.

One senior official of the Welsh Screen Academy admitted that he had never heard of India’s pioneering film and television institute at Pune. Instead, he spoke animatedly about a private film and television academy in Noida.

Richard Staniforth, a film-maker, is going to India optimistically hoping to sell a Welsh folk-tale to Bollywood. He is undeterred by friendly advice that he is simply wasting his time as Bollywood does not do this sort of thing.

From Bollywood to cricket — another Indian passion that the Welsh want to tap into. And, so, on to Glamorgan County Cricket Club for which Ravi Shastri and Saurav Ganguly have played. “They had a splendid time playing on this very ground …Ravi was a hit in more ways than one,” says club chairman Paul Russell with a knowing smile.

The ground is getting a multi-million pound face-lift to make it a Test venue. It will become Britain’s third largest Test ground after Lord’s and the Oval. While its big moment will be hosting the third Ashes Test in 2009, the Welsh authorities are hoping that the Indians will agree to play one of the Test matches on this ground during their England visit in 2011— with Ravi Shastri in the commentary box this time.

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