Boris Johnson will begin positioning himself as a world leader-in-waiting this week as he flies out for six-day tour of India and meets senior politicians and business tycoons.
The Mayor of London will visit Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai and will boost his celebrity status by appearing on a high-profile television chat show and visiting Bollywood film studios. He will also party with the England cricket team – in India for a Test series – in a country that reveres cricket more than almost anything.
It is Mr Johnson’s first major overseas trip – other than to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics – and will prompt speculation that his aim is not just to promote the capital but also to boost his own profile.
But he denied the trade mission was a prime ministerial-style venture that would be more appropriate for David Cameron or William Hague.
“No, it’s definitely not. It is my job. They know it’s going on and of course it’s supported by the Government. We’re there to bat for Britain as well as for London,” he said yesterday.
He insisted it was his duty to help London businesses of all sizes by “breaking down doors” in one of the world’s fastest growing economic powerhouses.
India has consistently been one of the top four investors in London over the past few years and the capital’s 10,000 Indian-owned businesses generate a combined turnover of £9bn.
Mr Johnson agreed that Britain had a “special relationship” with India – as the Prime Minister has claimed – but said it would be a “mistake” to “bang on” about our shared history.
“It’s the things we can do together now that are important,” he said. “But you cannot make any presumptions about any foreign market these days. We’d be mad to be complacent or to think we have got some special hold on the affections of people in India just because of a shared language, that’s just not how it works.
“They’re going to see what we’ve got to offer and see what we’ve got to sell and see where the opportunities are. People are very hard headed. I’m not certain that sentiment counts for an awful lot.”
Mr Johnson’s packed itinerary will include visits to airports, temples and new underground metro systems as well as speeches on higher education and the global economy.
He will see the Bombay Stock Exchange, a slum project in Mumbai and even find time to have tea with his Indian relatives in Delhi.
The Tory politician’s wife, Marina, is half Indian – her mother, Dip Singh, met the legendary BBC correspondent Charles Wheeler during his four-year positing to Delhi – and Mr Johnson likes to boasts of his children’s ancestry as a demonstration of his own multicultural credentials.
The Mayor’s entourage will include captains of industry from major companies including Standard Life, Berkeley Homes, John Lewis, Blackstone financial services and Serco India.
The movie producer David Parfitt, the chairman of Film London, and London Underground’s director of capital programmes, David Waboso, will also take part.
Senior executives from Deloitte, KPMG and British Airways will join the group as it travels round the country, staying in luxury five-star hotels along the way.
Mr Johnson laughed off suggestions that he would be mobbed by hordes of adoring fans after his global profile was boosted by the London Olympics and claimed that “blissful anonymity” would descend.Reuse content