Modi vis­its Bri­tain, seeks to re­cover from elec­tion blow

In­dia PM to ad­dress huge crowd at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

NEW DELHI: In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi will ad­dress a mass rally on a visit to Bri­tain this week that supporters hope will help him spring back from a hu­mil­i­at­ing elec­tion loss and re­assert his author­ity on the global stage. In­dia and Bri­tain could an­nounce deals worth 8-12 bil­lion pounds ($12-$18 bil­lion) dur­ing the visit, ac­cord­ing to di­plo­mats, with Modi keen to buy 20 more BAE Sys­tems Hawk trainer air­craft to be made in Ben­galuru.

Bri­tain is home to an In­dian di­as­pora of 1.5 mil­lion, and the two na­tions share the English lan­guage, his­tor­i­cal ties and an ob­ses­sion with cricket. Yet Modi has, in his first 18 months in power, made a pri­or­ity of court­ing global pow­ers like the United States and China.

“UK-In­dia ties are eco­nom­i­cally strong, but strate­gi­cally weak,” said Shashank Joshi, a se­nior re­search fel­low at the Royal United Ser­vices In­sti­tute in Lon­don. Seek­ing to re­gain the ini­tia­tive af­ter crash­ing to de­feat in a big state elec­tion at the week­end, Modi eased for­eign in­vest­ment rules this week in 15 sec­tors, in­clud­ing min­ing, de­fense and civil avi­a­tion.

“By in­tro­duc­ing th­ese re­forms the gov­ern­ment is cer­tainly spell­ing out why In­dia is an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion,” said Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The cen­tre­piece of the Nov 12-14 trip will be a mass rally and fire­work dis­play at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium on Fri­day for an es­ti­mated 60,000 supporters - three times big­ger than the crowd he drew to New York’s Madi­son Square Gar­den last year. Yet Modi’s pop­u­lar­ity is be­ing chal­lenged at home, af­ter the BJP lost an elec­tion badly in the east­ern state of Bi­har, home to 104 mil­lion peo­ple. Three party el­ders, in­clud­ing for­mer deputy prime min­is­ter L K Ad­vani, re­leased a state­ment late on Tues­day ques­tion­ing the di­rec­tion of the BJP, which risks em­bar­rass­ing Modi just ahead of his visit.

RE­VAMP SOUGHT

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron is seek­ing to re­vamp eco­nomic ties with fast-grow­ing Asian na­tions, in­clud­ing In­dia, as part of his push on busi­ness-fo­cused diplo­macy. Modi’s trip marks a re­mark­able turn­around for a man who was banned from Bri­tain for 10 years over his al­leged role as chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat in ri­ots that killed about 1,000 peo­ple in 2002.

Bri­tain ended a boy­cott of Modi three years ago af­ter he emerged from be­ing a provin­cial politi­cian to the likely leader of the world’s largest democ­racy. He has de­nied wrong­do­ing and was ex­on­er­ated by an in­quiry or­dered by In­dia’s Supreme Court. His three-day visit is likely to be marked by protests over those ri­ots and con­cerns over re­cent in­ci­dents in In­dia where Mus­lims have been tar­geted by Hindu ex­trem­ists.

ev­eral groups were plan­ning demon­stra­tions out­side Wem­b­ley Sta­dium dur­ing the rally and near Cameron’s Down­ing Street of­fice to co­in­cide with Modi’s visit there.

About 45 Bri­tish law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion leader Jeremy Cor­byn, re­cently signed a par­lia­men­tary mo­tion to de­bate In­dia’s hu­man rights record.

Modi has also at­tracted neg­a­tive cov­er­age in the Bri­tish press, with the left-lean­ing Guardian news­pa­per brand­ing him a “di­vi­sive ma­nip­u­la­tor who charmed the world”. The Fi­nan­cial Times pre­dicted his visit would be over­shad­owed by trou­bles at home in­clud­ing “a surge of some­times vi­o­lent Hindu chau­vin­ism and a slow­down of eco­nomic re­form”.

How­ever, many in Bri­tain’s In­dian di­as­pora were ea­ger to cel­e­brate Modi, with a web­site called “UK wel­comes Modi” promis­ing to de­liver “the loud­est, great­est and most vi­brant wel­come he has seen out­side of In­dia” at the Wem­b­ley rally. Modi’s bi­lat­eral visit, the first by an In­dian prime min­is­ter since 2006, fol­lows a pomp-laden visit the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment gave China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping last month that yielded $62 bil­lion of deals.

Bri­tain has grad­u­ally lost ground to other na­tions in an ef­fort to in­crease trade with its for­mer colony. In 2000, it was In­dia’s third­largest trad­ing part­ner. Since then Bri­tain has slipped to 18th, be­hind Bel­gium and Kuwait. “There is a sense of things be­ing jaded be­tween the two coun­tries,” said Nee­lam Deo, a for­mer diplo­mat and di­rec­tor of Gate­way House. “For In­dia, Bri­tain is a mid­dle-rank­ing power - it doesn’t seem to have an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy.” —Reuters

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