Modi arrives in UK on maiden visit

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 22, 2018

Modi supporters gathered at Downing Street on opposite side to protesters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greeted by Hugo Swire, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Priti Patel, Minister of State for Employment and the Government's Diaspora champion, and the Indian High Commissioner to the UK, Ranjan Mathai, on his arrival in London on Thursday. Photo credit: @PMO twitter handle

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has begun a three-day bilateral visit to the UK, which is expected to clinch billions of pounds of deals, including in the defence aviation, financial, and telecom sectors.

It is the first time an Indian Prime Minister has visited the UK since Manmohan Singh attended the G20 summit in 2009, and the first bilateral visit by a Prime Minister since 2006. It is the third meeting between UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Modi.

Modi, who touched down at Heathrow at 10 am local time on Thursday, was greeted by Hugo Swire, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Priti Patel, Minister of State for Employment and the Government’s Diaspora champion.

Bilateral talks

He is set to head to Downing Street, later this morning for bilateral talks, and will visit the Gandhi statue on Parliament Square, before giving a speech in Parliament, and addressing delegates in the City of London later this evening. He is set to attend a dinner and stay at Chequers, the official country residence of the UK Prime Minister.

Modi is accompanied by a high profile business delegation, including Tata head Cyrus Mistry, Sunil Bharti Mittal, the chair of Bharti Enterprises Ltd, TK Kurien of Wipro, Tulsi Tanti of Suzlon Energy, and Atul Punj of Punj Lloyd.

Protest, enthusiasm

The long-awaited visit is expected to be accompanied by enthusiasm as well as protest. While an event being held by the Indian diaspora community will fill the Wembley stadium with some 60,000 people on Friday, and there are other activities being organised by his supporters, including a tour bus, his visit has also attracted criticism from within and outside the UK Indian community.

CasteWatchUK has expressed its dismay over Modi visiting Ambedkhar House, while on Wednesday a group of British academics published a letter in the Guardian expressing deep concern that his visit would ‘mask acknowledgement of what’s happening in India today,’ pointing among other things to the position of women, the treatment of religious minorities, and the decision by prominent scientists, academics and artists to return rewards.

Climate change campaigners are also expected to press for Modi to take a lead role in pushing for stronger global action on climate change ahead of the G-20 summit in Turkey.

India-UK ties

Britain is the largest major Western power that Modi has visited since coming to power, though trade and investor relations remain strong.

Britain has invested $22.2 billion in India in the five years to 2015, and is the largest G20 investor in the country according to UK industry body, the CBI.

Deals wise, however, Modi’s trip is expected to have fewer big tickets than that of Chinese President Xi Jinping. During Jinping's visit to the UK last month some £40 billion of deals were clinched.

Nevertheless several billion pounds worth of deals are expected to be signed during the visit, including plans to develop three smart cities in India, and making the UK a centre for offshore rupee denominated ‘Masala’ bonds.

Writers raise intolerance issue

Two hundred writers, including Salman Rushdie, Nikita Lalwani, and Ian McEwan have written to British Prime Minister David Cameron, expressing concern about the "rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India.”

The letter published by PEN International called on Cameron to engage with PM Modi publicly and privately on the issue to ensure the protection of writers, artists and critical voices.

“Without these protections a democratic, peaceful society is not possible.” They highlighted the murder of three writers and intellectuals, and the decision by over 40 Indian novelists, poets and playwrights who have returned Sahitya Akademi awards.

The letter was among several critical voices published ahead of Modi’s visit. One letter published by a group of academics in the Guardian expressed deep concern that his visit would ‘mask acknowledgement of what’s happening in India today,’ pointing among other things to the position of women, the treatment of religious minorities and stifling of dissent.

Published on November 12, 2015

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