“Modi! Modi! Modi!,” cheered almost 60,000 supporters gathered in Wembley Stadium to welcome the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, who was on a three-day visit to the United Kingdom. UK Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron introduced Mr. Modi as the “Chaiwala” who no one expected would lead the “largest democracy in the world.” During Mr. Cameron’s welcome address, Mr. Modi stood a few feet back, sombre and waiting. The audience erupted in cheering and applause when Mr. Cameron reiterated that, for India “Acche din Zaroor Ayenge,” “Great days will definitely come,” but the enthusiasm was more in anticipation for what Mr. Modi had to say to them.
Since becoming Prime Minister in May 2014, UK is the 28th country that Mr. Modi has visited as a concerted effort to continue his active engagement with the world. This is his first visit to the UK, since the country lifted the diplomatic boycott of the leader in 2012. This was only when his popularity was at a peak and his involvement in the Gujarat riots of 2002 had been dismissed multiple times by the Supreme Court of India. Mr. Cameron and his team welcomed Mr. Modi with a red-carpet treatment, that some criticized was meant only for visiting heads of state, which in the case of India would be its President. However, Mr. Modi was escorted and treated like the head of state by Mr. Cameron. Here are six highlights from the trip that attempt to encompass his visit to the United Kingdom.
During the three-day visit, Mr. Modi attended multiple events that were business and economy related in pursuing his agenda of economic optimism and rapid growth of the Indian economy. In his meetings he emphasized the significant role that Indian business professionals and their businesses can play in building a more modern India. Mr. Modi attended the Guildhall Business Meeting and in his address enumerated various domestic and trade policy changes that would make India more conducive to do business in including “expedited regulatory clearances including security and environmental clearance.” Earlier this year, Times Magazine reported that prominent Indian businesses were concerned of growing intolerance in India making it harder to do business, and Mr. Modi used all the positive information to convince them otherwise.
Indian and British Companies also pledged £9 Billion ($13.6 Billion) to build smart cities in India in Amravati, Indore, and Pune through a 5-year strategic partnership. Mr. Cameron proposed that UK would be involved in Mr. Modi’s ambition and promise to build 100 Smart Cities across India. In addition to this announcement by the British Prime Minister, Mr. Modi was involved in over 27 deals ranging from increase in foreign investments from OPG Power Venture plc, and Merlins Entertainment plc, investment in alternative energy development projects from Solar PV Generator and Lightsource, investment in healthcare advancement by Advatech Health and King’s College Hospital and multiple other MoUs with other corporations. Investments were promised for Mr. Modi’s national initiatives like “Digital India,” and “Skill for Life.” Mr. Modi also addressed the UK-India CEO Forum during his trip.
These deals and Mr. Cameron’s enthusiastic promise of working with India as a partner was deemed a success for Mr. Modi’s economic agenda.
Cultural ties with the United Kingdom
Mr. Modi’s opening speech at the UK Parliament on his first day encompassed not only his economic agenda but the cultural relations he aims to build with Britain. Of the cultural aspects India and Britain shared, he remarked that whether it be “Jaguar... Brooke Bond Tea, or curry,” that “there are many things on which it is hard to tell anymore if they are British or Indian.” Mr. Modi’s cultural agenda, however, was made solid when Mr. Cameron announced that 2017 in UK would be the year of UK/India Year of Culture, and showed how integral the British-Indian Community is to the United Kingdom. The highlight of cultural engagement was Mr. Modi’s visit to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The Queen shared some items from the Royal Collection with Mr. Modi including a shawl made from yarn that was spun by Mahatma Gandhi. Mr. Modi gifted award winning Darjeeling Tea, organic honey, and Tanchoi Stoles, to the Queen along with pictures from her visit to India in 1961 and gifted silver bookends to Mr. Cameron with Bhagvad Gita verses inscribed on them. Vikas Swarup from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs tied India-UK soft power relationship in a perfect bow deeming it as “building on the bonds of history.”
Address to Indian Diaspora at Wembley Stadium
Mr. Modi’s address at Wembley was an extravagant affair attended by around 60,000 supporters and cultural performances including dance, music and a display of yoga. Mr. Cameron addressed the crowd first and with his attempt to say a few words in Hindi won the hearts of the audience that erupted in cheers. After his speech, Mr. Cameron embraced Mr. Modi in a hug that was emblematic of a true moment of friendship between the nations. Mr. Cameron, however, was just the opening act for the Indian Prime Minister. Mr. Modi emphasized two different FDI’s that Britain could help India with; one being Foreign Direct Investment and the other, he wittingly exclaimed, being “First Develop India.” The Wembley Stadium arch was lit up in the colors of the Indian flag and the event concluded “featuring the biggest fireworks display in the whole country.”This event was almost three times the size of Mr. Modi’s successful address to the Indian Diaspora at Madison Square Garden in the United States in 2014. This event was, infact, a reiteration of Mr. Modi’s motivation to extend his leadership to the Indian diaspora and a stark reminder that Indian communities around the world have a crucial role to play in the future of India. Parul Malhotra, who attended the event, shared her conviction that Mr. Modi had finally put India on the world map as a significant power to reckon with.”
Modi-Cameron Joint Press Conference
The first day of the visit, Mr. Modi and Mr. Cameron stood in front of their respective national flags and addressed the press that had gathered in a joint press conference speaking of the “true potential” of the relationship between India and UK. A significant note that Mr. Cameron shared in this meeting was UK’s support for India’s permanent seat the United Nation Security Council. They also spoke of signing a civil nuclear agreement Mr. Modi mentioned that UK-India relationship was developing on “mutual trust” between the two nations. Mr. Cameron was sure to mention that “british businesses already support nearly 700,000 jobs in India, and India invests more into the UK than it does in the rest of the European Union combined,” which he brought up during his Wembley speech as well. Mr. Cameron, in the same conference, promised to deploy a Royal Navy Warship to participate in “India's first major international gathering of warships” in February of next year.
Protests and Modi’s Response to growing intolerance in India
Mr. Modi’s visit was not without controversy, not just during his visit but even before he landed in the United Kingdom. In light of BJP losing elections in Bihar that was essential for Mr. Modi’s influence in the Rajya Sabha, Upper House of Indian Parliament, as well as the multi-faceted protests against rising intolerance in India, Awaaz Network, organized protests against Mr. Modi. These protests had support from organizations such as “South Asia solidarity Group, Sikh Federation UK, Southall, Black Sisters, Dalit Solidarity Network UK, Indian Muslim Federation, Indian Workers Association as well as the Muslim Parliament and Voice of Dalit International.” The Awaaz network took responsibility for projecting an image onto the House of Parliament of Mr. Modi yielding a sword next to a swastika which on close observation is actually an “Om,” which is from Hinduism. Some harsh critics like Anish Kapur, in the Guardian, have blatantly claimed that India is being run by the “Hindu Taliban.” Other protests involved Director Leslee Udwin wanted to urge the Prime Minister to lift the “absurd and misguided” Indian ban on her movie ‘India’s Daughter.’ The movie, the purpose of which was to bring awareness and an end to gender-based violence in the country, was banned and declared an “an international conspiracy to defame India”. These protests signified that the Indian community in UK is inextricably linked to the events going on in India and play an active voice in the debate. While Mr. Modi continues to invigorate Indian diaspora abroad to play a role in the future of India, he must also recognize these voices might protest against him. However, the surprise came with Mr. Modi being asked about growing intolerance and the country and Mr. Modi finally spoke on the matter that he has been reluctant to break his silence over. The Guardian reported his response that was short yet strict-
“My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence,” Modi said. “My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” he added.
Mr. Modi who only a few months ago had called the killing of a man who allegedly ate beef in Dadri an “unfortunate” event, may have just begun to change his rhetoric towards the intolerance in the country.