The rhythm of warm anticipation for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s UK visit was momentarily interrupted by the Awaaz stunt, a shocking hybrid of sacrilege and treason projected onto the Houses of Parliament on Monday. The British left wing media continued with its attempts to blow an east wind with icy shards through the Indian PM’s achievements and reputation, but the British are made of stronger stuff and nothing was going to divide British affection and goodwill for India and her people.
Thursday’s protests outside Downing Street were an amalgam of minority voices and pseudo patriots who were obliged to combine to make enough noise. Under a kaleidoscope of coloured flags protesters took turns in shouting out their so called cause for the entertainment of the pedestrians. Security was paramount and traffic in the borough of Westminster was entirely diverted. But there were more Metropolitan Police personnel than protesters.
The demand for the return of the Kohinoor diamond gained little traction. Many regard this as a counterpoint to the PM-Queen lunch at Buckingham Palace. The general sentiment is that “the past is another country” and mature democracies look forward. Clearly, British Prime Minister David Cameron agrees, as he emphasised several times that he looked forward to a new “more ambitious modern partnership” with India. Modern is the key word here. Certainly, manufacturing, developing skills in India, defence purchases (Eurojet and aircraft carriers have been mentioned), visa reforms, counter terrorism and cyber collaboration are all on the table, but it all depends on the commitment from both sides to follow through. To kick-start the modern partnership, Cameron plans to issue over £1 billion of bonds, including the first ever government-backed rupee-denominated bond to be issued internationally. Thursday’s dinner at Chequers and the timely elimination of Mohammed Emwazi (Jihadi John) will have fast-forwarded the counter-terrorism conversation that was already on Modi’s agenda.
Invitations to the impressive Royal Gallery were extraordinarily controlled. Yet there appeared to be no seating plan as Britain’s richest Indians, the Hinduja brothers were sitting behind relative non-entities. David Cameron was seated next to Keith Vaz, MP and Chris Grayling MP/Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons. Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition was not in attendance, which may be interpreted as a snub by many NRIs and will likely be remembered at the next general election.
The invitation prescribed “lounge suits”. Surprisingly very few Indian jackets that used to be called the “Nehru jacket”, but is now sold in Asian enclaves as the “Modi jacket”, were in evidence. Apart from PM Modi, this reporter counted four Modi jackets and only six saris or salwar kameezes among the 400 odd guests.
The Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP gave a charming introduction to the Indian Prime Minister: “…Sceptics sometimes suggest that democracy is all but impossible to create or to maintain in countries of a certain size, degree of diversity or level of economic development. Over the past 68 years, India has proved to be a standing rebuke to such sceptics… To rout the disbelievers completely, however, democracy has to demonstrate that it can respect free speech and incorporate a true diversity of creeds, faiths and orientations without diminishing or disrespecting any of them. With some 1.3 billion people and a burgeoning young population, India will become the most populous nation on our planet well within the lifetimes of many people here present, and it is destined to become a leader in the world. Put bluntly, India is all our futures.”
During his speech, PM Modi gave a nod of appreciation to the Labour party as well. If Modi’s speech was a painting it would be said he used broad but bold brushstrokes to make his points about instability from climate change to the urgency of needing a UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. He specifically referenced Afghanistan, no doubt hoping Britain shares the Indian vision for the future of that craggy country. He hinted that we would jointly explore the mysteries of science and harness the power of technology and innovation which may be a reference to a forthcoming collaboration for nuclear or thorium technologies. Cameron has already stated that UK and Indian scientists will work together to develop low-cost, low-carbon energy and UK is establishing a £10 million joint research collaboration into new technologies.
As Modi outlined the opportunities for jobs in India, Cameron announced 39,000 more people from British Indian backgrounds are working in the UK, compared to this time last year, an increase of 5.1%. The Foreign Office has confirmed that India is the third biggest job creator in UK, employing 110,000 people. British companies are creating one in every 20 jobs in India’s organised private sector. British businesses already support nearly 700,000 jobs in India.
Baroness De Souza, the Lord Speaker, completed the occasion by contrasting the modest progress the 1930 London Round Table Conference achieved, with the expectations soon to be realised between the equal partnership between two world leaders, Modi and Cameron.
Whatever the long-term outcomes, the visit has been a convenient political outreach for both PMs: through the diaspora BJP is campaigning in India and through the Indian Prime Minister the Conservative party is campaigning at home.