In London, Modi changes the discourse
by Sandhya Jain on 17 Nov 2015 10 Comments
Prime Minister Narendra Modi used his London visit to transcend the negative discourse about his regime by projecting a confident and aspirational India, receptive to foreign investment and collaboration, while remaining wedded to its civilisational moorings. Hours before he unveiled the statue of medieval sage Basaveshwara on the banks of the Thames in Lambeth borough, the savagery of terrorist attacks in Paris made the peddlers of “Hindu Taliban” and “Intolerant India” look like snake oil salesmen.


Never has such a meticulously choreographed circus by Western (mainly US) academicians, Indian writers, artists and sundry activists, aimed at demonizing a popular leader, collapsed so colossally. As Hindu sages aver, it’s all about time and place. As the real Taliban cousins (likely ISIS) turned up uninvited at a rock concert, the stadium where President Francois Hollande was watching a soccer match with the German foreign minister, and other places, the high decibel calumny against Mr Modi looked embarrassingly false and ill-timed. Both Silicon Valley and Wembley shunned the agent provocateurs; this could make future mobilisation counter-productive.


Dodging calls for reparations for colonial exploitation, Mr Modi said the two nations shared some traditions and gracefully acknowledged the British education of several Indian freedom fighters and leaders, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh. Ironically, even as the Prime Minister rectified previous gaffes of criticising former regimes on foreign soil, the Congress party’s student wing put out posters in Allahabad comparing Jawaharlal Nehru to the celebrated Raja Bhoj and scorning Mr Modi’s caste background.


Mr Modi, however, had more important things on his mind and during the course of his three-day visit, set about enticing Britain with mention of the iconic Jaguar (Britain’s largest private sector employer, now owned by Tata), Brooke Bond tea, curry, and of course cricket. The Modi-speak moment came when he said every young Indian footballer wants to “bend it like Beckham”.


Coming to business, he offered £1 billion rupee-denominated bonds from Indian railways at the London Stock Exchange. Claiming India’s business environment has eased, he promised there would henceforth be no retrospective taxation. He explained recent reform measures to Chancellor of Exchequer Gordon Osborne and top CEOs of India and Britain, including further relaxation in FDI norms in 15 sectors, and pledged to protect Intellectual Property Rights of innovators and entrepreneurs, for which a comprehensive National IPR policy is being finalised. The fact that FDI into India has increased by 40 per cent reflects international confidence in India.


The main purpose of the visit was to attract investment for development, particularly smart and sustainable cities, for which he secured a five-year partnership to develop Amravati, Indore and Pune. Given that nearly half the British Indians are of Gujarati origin, he offered a direct Air India flight between London and Ahmedabad from December 15. Interestingly, British observers noted, one reason why Prime Minister Cameron spread the red carpet for Mr Modi was that in the general election in May, the Tories for the first time received one million votes from ethnic minorities, mainly Asians, and outpolled Labour among Hindus and Sikhs.


By all accounts, it was a productive visit, with student visas possibly the one issue that evaded quick resolution. Mr Modi raised the matter twice, pointing out that Indian students are among the best in the world, but difficulty in getting visas had led to a fifty per cent decline in those studying in the UK in the past three years, forcing them to go to America or Australia. To NRIs he offered a digital platform, MADAD, to resolve visa and related issues.


In all, deals worth £9 billion were announced, including inking a civil nuclear pact, and collaboration in defence and cyber security. Mr Cameron offered a government-to-government framework to help India, the world’s largest defence importer, to modernise her capabilities by increasing cooperation in new technologies and new capabilities, like cyber security and aircraft carriers. Britain is helping to establish a new centre to train one million Indian cyber-security professionals and offering assistance to set up a new Indian cyber-crime unit.


The consortium, Indo-UK Healthcare, committed to invest over Rs 10,000 crore to bring the famous NHS Hospitals and other leading educational institutions and universities to India over the next few years. The first hospital, King’s College Hospital, England will come up in New Chandigarh at an investment of Rs 1,000 crore. Investment in joint UK-India research from the UK Research Councils, the Government of India and third parties was enhanced by £72-million.


Mr Modi’s two key concerns included terrorism and climate change. Even before the Paris carnage occurred, he mentioned a world “where instability spreads quickly and poses challenges of radicalisation and refugees”. The fault-lines between nations, he stated presciently, “are shifting from borders to societies, making terrorism and extremism a global force of new dimensions”.


Stressing the urgency for the United Nations to adopt a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism, he reiterated India’s position that the world must not distinguish between terrorist groups or discriminate between nations, but isolate those who harbour terrorists and stand with nations that fight them honestly. It was a polite way of saying India had ploughed a lonely furrow in the matter of externally-funded terrorism; the Paris attacks a few hours later underlined the reality of mobile terrorism. On his part, Mr Cameron reiterated support for India getting a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.


At Paris (COP 21), Mr Modi emphasised, the world must initiate a low carbon age for the sustainable future of the planet, and nations with the means and know-how must help meet humanity’s need for clean energy and a healthy environment. India plans to achieve 175 GW of additional capacity in renewable energy by 2022 and reduction in emission intensity of 33-35 % by 2030.


Stressing the importance of international agreement to limit global warming to two degrees by 2050, Mr Modi invited Britain to join India’s initiative for an International Solar Alliance (Surya-putra) for tropical countries, to make solar energy an integral part of our lives, especially in remote villages that have not received electricity. A fund of £10 million has been set up for joint research collaboration into low-cost, low-carbon energy technologies, along with a comprehensive package of £3.2 billion for commercial deals and initiatives to share technical, scientific, and financial and policy expertise.


By the time Mr Modi landed in Antalya, Turkey, for the G20 summit, global security concerns had eclipsed the Cassandras and professional hate-mongers.  

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