This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by UK High Commissioner, Sir James Bevan KCMG at the Young Leaders Forum in Mumbai Friday, 20 September 2013
There are three duties which fall to me in wrapping up your forum this afternoon. The first is to give a vote of thanks to all involved. The second is to be as brief as possible, because after two days you have probably heard enough speeches.
But there’s a third duty that I want to exercise as well, which is to tell you Young Indian Leaders why in my view now is the best time ever to be you: to be young, to be Indian and to be a leader. I think you have won the lottery of history, and I’d like to tell you why.
But let me first thank everyone who has made this first edition of the Young Leaders Forum such a success. I want to thank in particular Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University; Ian Felton, the UK Deputy High Commissioner in Bangalore; Andrew Mitchell, Director for Prosperity at the British Foreign Office, and all our other distinguished speakers and panellists.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. There’s a saying that “once the mind has been stretched by a new idea, it will never again return to its original size.” So thanks to all of you for warping our minds.
I want to thank Victor Mallet of the Financial Times for moderating this last session, and the other moderators. I can think of no greater challenge than keeping order between a large group of what Amartya Sen calls The Argumentative Indian. I imagine it’s a bit like lion-taming without the whip. You survived. Well done.
And I want to thank all those who worked so long and hard behind the scenes to organise and run this event. I suggest we give all of them now a round of applause.
But most of all I want to thank you, the Young Indian Leaders here today, who have given your time to participate in this exciting event. You should congratulate yourselves, because your attendance at this event is an investment in your own future. I am confident that the ideas you have shared, the friends you have met, and the contacts you have made, will make each of you better prepared to build whatever future you want.
And finally, you should congratulate yourself for another reason: which is that if you are young and Indian today – and you are – you have won the lottery of life.
Why do I say that? Well, first, because being alive at the beginning of the 21st century is better than being alive at any time before. Today, in 2013, we humans are healthier than ever before. We live longer. We are richer than any previous generation. We have more choice and greater freedom in how we live our lives than all of our predecessors. We know more things than we have ever known. Technology is empowering all of us in ways our parents could not have dreamt of.
So simply because you live at the beginning of the 21st century, you have won the lottery of history. But there’s more. I would argue that as young Indians today, you have also won the lottery of geography. Why? Because the 21st century is India’s to shape, and because in shaping this century, India possesses advantages many other countries don’t.
Scale: if you want to do something really big, India has the money, the people and the resources to do it.
Demography: India’s youthful population is a huge economic advantage, provided its millions of young people can be given the right education and good jobs. Ambition, energy, talent: Indians have it in industrial quantities.
Creative destruction – the force that drives successful progress: nowhere do you see more of it than in India. History: a country with a long history knows how to do things – because it’s done most of them already in the thousands of years that have gone before. And a country with a rich civilisation like India can be confident of meeting any future challenge - because it’s successfully met all the challenges of the past.
Knowledge: the value that Indian civilisation has always placed on knowledge is evident today. You see it in the commitment of every Indian parent at every level to get the best possible education for their child: and a society that invests heavily in its children is a society with a bright future. India’s vast and growing middle class: a force for progress and stability. Unity in diversity: not just a slogan but a fact, which I see every day in my travels, and a huge unseen force for creativity and prosperity.
There’s one final advantage that India has today over many other places: optimism. Whatever the media or the politicians in Delhi say, almost every Indian I meet in the Real India believes that while today is good, tomorrow will be better. Optimism is a tremendous driver of growth and progress, and India has it.
What’s the only thing better than being a young Indian now? Being a young Indian leader. Because the X factor for any endeavour is leadership. And now, here in India, your leadership – in whatever field you work – will make a huge difference to the future of this great country.
So I am very confident about you, and about India. But what I think really doesn’t matter. What does matter is what you think – because it’s not me who is going to build this country’s future: it’s you. On behalf of the British people, I wish you well in that great endeavour.
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I think I have discharged my three duties. Thank you all for coming. We look forward to seeing you this evening for drinks and dinner with the British Business Groups.