BRICS head office in Mumbai?

Mumbai also faces issues pertinent to developing countries: unruly urbanisation, overpopulation, poverty and security challenges, making it the perfect laboratory for the BRICS project.

By Manjeet Kripalani

Globally, metropolitan cities are becoming powerful centres that sustain entire countries—just like London sustains the UK. Life is increasingly urban: over 30% of India is urban, and by 2030 nearly 600 million Indians will be urban. In the EU, 70% of the citizens live in cities.

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Mumbaikars yearn to elevate their city to the position it held a decade ago, when people mentioned “Dubai, Mumbai and Shanghai” in the same breath. It’s time for Mumbai to return to its global positioning.

The government has moved beyond the rhetoric of rural politics and is focusing on cities and urbanisation. In developing countries, this is where meaningful change can occur, where growth is neither seamless nor equal. Cities are functioning pockets that attract talent and can have a strong demonstration effect. Here, cities like Mumbai can be role models. Nairobi, Kinshasa or even Bhubaneswar can’t become Singapore, Shanghai or Dubai, but they can become Mumbai.

If Mumbai succeeds, there is hope for others.

So how can Mumbai get there? Governance and infrastructure are difficult to change, but we can work backwards—by aiming high, and then under strict standards stitching the infrastructure and governance together. The proven method is to host an international institution or event. Given this, Mumbai is the perfect home for the BRICS headquarters.

One, this will be the first multilateral institution located in India, and will bring expertise, talent, funding and standards. Multilaterals also bring an engagement with international leaders, the practice of economic diplomacy and a better understanding of multilateral negotiation. They bring tourism, jobs and additional revenue: the UN headquarters bring New York City additional revenue of over $1 billion a year from the 1 million annual visitors to the UN.

Two, Mumbai has the necessary criteria to host the BRICS headquarters. According to a survey (Forbes) on what makes cities globally influential, Joel Kotkin listed air connectivity, diversity, FDI, corporate headquarters, producer services, financial services, technology and media, and industry dominance. Mumbai scores over other BRICS cities in each, with international connectivity, sharing overlapping working hours and being within an eight-hour radius of other BRICS countries, except Brazil.

On FDI, Maharashtra is the second highest and Mumbai has received highest FDI inflows in the past 20 years, holds 6% of India’s GDP, 30% of tax revenues, 40% of foreign trade and 25% of industrial production.

Mumbai is home to the largest number of corporate headquarters in India, and two major ports. It hosts India’s top legal, accounting and consulting firms. RBI is trusted and has the most sophisticated financial system over any other BRICS countries. The Bombay Stock Exchange is the oldest in Asia; its 5,000 companies have a joint market capitalisation of over $2.8 trillion, while the government-owned National Stock Exchange brings in $2.5 trillion.

Mumbai also faces issues pertinent to developing countries: unruly urbanisation, overpopulation, poverty and security challenges, making it the perfect laboratory for the BRICS project.

A physical location is available: Along the city’s eastern seaboard, in the 773 acres of picturesque port area along the Victoria and Princess Docks which are up for redevelopment. The BRICS headquarters and secretariat can be located between the stately RBI and the heritage Naval headquarters.

India has long been critical of the Washington Consensus, and western domination of institutions like the World Bank and the IMF. The BRICS headquarters can begin a conversation about a BRICS Consensus, with its more equitable formation. The intermingling of multilateral bureaucrats with Mumbai’s no-nonsense business folk will ensure policy pragmatism. Its citizens are ready to become partners in India’s diplomacy.

No multilateral institution, especially one as world-changing as BRICS, can succeed without a physical headquarters. The Percy Committee Report of 2007 plans to make Mumbai an international financial centre. Linking that with the upcoming Bangalore-Mumbai corridor will develop the eastern seaboard like London’s Dockyards, or Shanghai’s Bund.

The Maharashtra government and Delhi can back this plan. It will give Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Uddhav Thackeray the status of visionary global leaders—beyond just the BRICS.

The author is executive director and co-founder, Gateway House

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