London: Prime Minister Narendra Modi today arrived here on his maiden visit to the United Kingdom that will see him holding talks with top British leaders including his counterpart David Cameron.
The Prime Minister flew into the British capital on his three-day visit with a hectic schedule aimed at boosting Indo-UK economic ties.
The visit will start with talks with Cameron at 10 Downing Street, following which he will also address a joint press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).
It is not clear if Modi will field questions from journalists, something he has avoided doing so far on all of his foreign visits as prime minister. In 2006, the last time that Indian and British PMs met for a bilateral summit in London, both Manmohan Singh and Tony Blair answered questions from Indian and British journalists.
Ahead of his departure from Delhi on Wednesday, Modi tweeted: “Leaving for UK. I am hopeful this visit will strengthen economic ties between India and UK & bring more investment to India. #makeinindia.”
A brief stop to pay tributes at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Parliament Square will be followed by speeches at the Houses of Parliament and then at Guildhall in the financial hub of London.
His talks with Cameron will carry on at the British Prime Minister’s country residence of Chequers in Buckinghamshire, where he is being hosted overnight.
On Friday, Modi returns to London for a CEOs round-table which is likely to include representatives from major British companies like Rolls-Royce and Vodafone.
The ceremonial part of the visit is expected to include a special tricolour flypast by the Red Arrows Royal Air Force (RAF) Aerobatic Team over Buckingham Palace before the Prime Minister sits down for lunch with Queen Elizabeth II ahead of his mega diaspora address at the iconic Wembley Stadium in north London.
A visit to the Tata Motors’ owned Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) factory in Solihull, in the West Midlands region of England, will be the last item on his British agenda.
“My visit to UK is the first Prime Ministerial visit in almost a decade. I have had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister David Cameron at various international forums and our meetings have been productive. Prime Minister Cameron is a good friend of India’s, and we in India have had the privilege of welcoming him thrice during his first term as Prime Minister,” Modi had written in a Facebook post ahead of the visit.
Scholars raise issue of ‘abuses’
The visit, of course, is not without controversy and a section of Indians in the UK are gearing up to protest the Modi government’s policies.
In a letter to the Guardian, a number of Indian academics wrote:
As UK academics researching development in India, we are deeply concerned about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s official visit to the UK from 12-14 November, and call for the human rights abuses on his watch to be questioned in the public domain. It is important that the growing economic ties between India and the UK, which will no doubt be applauded during this visit, should not mask acknowledgment of the darker sides of what’s happening in India today…
Under Modi’s rule, inflammatory hate speech and violent acts against Christian and Muslim minorities have steadily increased. Mr Modi’s silence and delayed response to all these crimes does nothing to stem the violence. Additionally, his administration has intimidated environmental and human rights activists and researchers and sought to control key institutions of learning.
Another group of scholars said urged “members of the international community to call attention to Mr Modi’s human rights abuses and to hold him accountable for violations of freedom of speech and religion. For those of us who uphold human rights, Mr Modi is not welcome to the UK.”:
Mr Modi tours the world extensively as a forward-looking leader focused on India’s economic growth. This is despite agencies such as Moody’s Analytics and papers such as the New York Times warning Mr Modi to rein in his movement’s politics of hatred and violence. It is in the context of trade that Mr Modi is arriving in the UK on 12 November 2015 to meet with British politicians, businessmen and Indian community members. But there has been a sustained undermining by the Modi government of some 13,000 NGOs, including Greenpeace, Amnesty International, ActionAid, Ford Foundation and others working in the areas of environmental justice and human rights. There has been consistent flouting of environmental and resource regulations to serve the interests of the large business houses that Mr Modi has gathered around himself.
Speaking to journalists before Modi’s departure, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday that India and Britain are leading investors in each other’s countries. “Our ballpark figure for UK investments in India is in excess of $22 billion. It amounts to 9 percent of the current FDI level in India,” he said.
He said that the working assumption on Indian investments in Britain was around $500-600 million per year for the past few years.
“We have 122 FDI investments in the UK. We are a significant job creator there,” Jaishankar said. Terming Britain a significant trade partner of India, he said that “we have almost $18 billion worth of trade”.
“We have trade in services of $4 billion-plus,” the foreign secretary said.
“We have a very robust partnership in science and technology, education, healthcare, culture. We have 800 Indian companies operating in the UK,” he said, adding that several business agreements will be signed during the course of the visit. The prime minister would also interact with CEOs at a roundtable in London. “My message to the business community is clear – come, make use of the opportunities India is offering and invest in India,” Modi stated on Facebook.
Defence is another area of bilateral cooperation that will be in focus, with the Indian government relaxing FDI norms in the sector on the eve of Modi’s departure.
“We have traditionally been cooperating extensively on defence and security issues and this visit will build on strong ties. Defence manufacturing will be a prime focus in my talks,” Modi wrote. According to Jaishankar, government-to-government discussions will be held between Modi and British Premier David Cameron.
Modi heads to Ankara to attend the G20 summit on Saturday after inaugurating a new statue of 12th Century philosopher and Bhakti movement icon Basava, as well as a new memorial to Dr B.R. Ambedkar in London.
The UK ranks 18th in the list of India’s top 25 trading partners and two-way trade in 2014-15 stood at USD 14.34 billion.
Britain is the third largest inward investor in India, after Mauritius and Singapore, with a cumulative equity investment of USD 22.26 billion between 2000-2015.
The UK ranks first among the G20 and India undertook 122 FDI projects in the country in 2014-15.
In fact, the UK attracts more Indian investment than the rest of the European Union put together.
Indian businesses in the UK employ around 110,000 people, 65,000 of whom work for the Tata Group.
“It’s an opportunity for two countries, tied by history, people and values, to work together to overcome the biggest challenges of our age,” Cameron said earlier.
Cameron described the visit as “extraordinary”, which is not simply about celebrating the economic ties but “actually building a thoroughly modern partnership between our two great countries”.
The ‘Modi Not Welcome’ campaign by the Awaaz Network as well as a protest organised by CasteWatchUK will assemble outside Downing Street and then move on to Parliament Square.
“We regard Modi’s planned inauguration of Ambedkar House as a cynical PR exercise which aims merely to show the world that he cares about the Dalit community.
“However, it is also an insult to the memory of Ambedkar,” CasteWatchUK said in a statement.
“There is a danger that the continued hero worship of Prime Minister Modi will move the country down a slippery slope towards dictatorship and fascism,” it added.
Another group of protesters are expected to assemble outside Wembley Stadium, demanding that the Indian government lift the ban on the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ by British filmmaker Leslie Udwin.
“An appropriate policing plan is in place. We are in dialogue with various protest groups to facilitate their requests. No restrictions have been placed on the route,” a Metropolitan Police statement said.
With inputs from The Wire’s staff