Posted by: John Elliott | November 14, 2015

Modi and Cameron bond as they woo some 60,000 overseas Indians in a football stadium 

LONDON: It can’t often happen that prime ministers from two different countries together address the same audience of tens of thousands, both of them looking to the same people for votes and other political support. Even more remarkable is that the two politicians use the event to build a hitherto non-existent personal bond and to enlarge business and other links between their countries.

Modi Wembley Cameron IMG_0377

That was what developed last evening at London’s vast Wembley Stadium in London when David Cameron, British prime minister, cashed in on a mega event organised by overseas Indians in the UK to welcome their hero, Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister.

Cameron had no need to be there – Modi has addressed similar though smaller audiences elsewhere without an escort – but the British prime minister seized the opportunity and even forecast that Indians were becoming so involved in the country that “it won’t be long before there is a British Indian prime minister in Downing Street”.

IMG_4518Introducing Modi, who of course needed no introduction, Cameron said, “We are all winners today”, and even managed a few words in Hindi.

The two men hugged and Modi, who had just lunched with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, responded by starting his 90-minute speech in English. It was, he said, a  “historic day for a great partnership between two great nations and two great peoples, and we are celebrating this special relationship”.

They arrived at the football stadium 45 minutes late after the crowd had been entertained for over two hours with pop and traditional warm-up acts from a wide array of artists, including north London’s Shree Muktajeevan pipe band and drummers, dressed and sounding like Scottish bagpipers, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra accompanying both an Indian group and playing the national anthems.

Modi is an expert at mobilizing a mass audience and he excelled last night. He repeatedly thanked Cameron, and started by talking about the two countries’ links. Next came international issues such as India showing the world the “right path” for “saving humanity” over issues such as global warming and terrorism.

modi in parl

That all got bursts of rapturous applause, as did promises to supply electricity to Indian villages, install toilets across the country, and provide bank accounts for the poor. Even references to attacking corruption got applause. Mention of Modi’s home state of Gujarat was several times a winner, which pleased the heavily-Gujarati audience, especially when he announced that direct flights from London to the state would start next month.

The event was the high spot of Modi’s 50-hour stay in Britain, which ends at lunchtime today when he flies to Turkey for an international  conference.

It began with a rather sombre formal greeting ceremony (above) with grey-coated Scots Guards and a Welsh Guards band in the circular Treasury Courtyard just off Whitehall with David Cameron looking grim, as he did at a joint press conference later in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and Modi (who arrived 12 minutes late) looking suitably stern.

The British government did its best to make sure that the trip was memorable and that Modi felt welcomed. In addition to lunch with the Queen, Modi made a speech in parliament (above) and there were neat gestures such as Tower Bridge and the London Eye being floodlit with the Indian national colours of orange, white and green, while a fighter jet flypast had similarly coloured trails.


Efforts have been made by both sides to avoid Modi’s controversial past as Gujarat chief minister during riots ion 2002, and as the current leader of a government and party that is developing a reputation for anti-Muslim Hindu Nationalist rhetoric. But both Modi and Cameron had to face up to the issues with blunt questions asked by the BBC and The Guardian newspaper in a joint press conference.

“India is becoming an increasing intolerant country. Why?“, asked a BBC reporter, having been picked by Cameron to ask the first question. Modi talked about India’s Buddhist and Gandhian traditions and said acts of violence would be dealt with. The Guardian wanted to know how Cameron felt inviting someone who has been shunned for years after the Gujarat riots. The answer was that the past was the past and Modi, elected with a high majority last year, was now the prime minister so it was right to have the visit.

The questions were tough, but they did allow both prime ministers to deal on the record with an issue that was blocking nearby streets and being aired aggressively in the British newspapers.

IMG_4510Parliament Square (above) and part of Whitehall were closed to traffic for most of the first day. All streets between that area and Modi’s hotel near St James’s Park were also closely guarded by police in order to keep hundreds of shouting protestors away.

The causes ranged from complaints about the Gujarat riots and Hindu violence to a current dispute over Nepal constitution, while Pakistani Kashmiris shouted for India to free its region of Kashmir.

British newspapers joined the noise. The Times was one of the worst with a headline saying, “Hold your nose and shake Modi by the hand”, while The Guardian went over the top with “India is being ruled by the Hindu Taliban”, written by India-born artist Anish Kapoor. The Daily Telegraph had a large front page photo of Modi headlined “All is forgiven, Mr Modi”, but a news story inside said “Pomp and ceremony for an ex-pariah” The Independent had a measured editorial titled “All due respect”, but that was spoiled by a “blood on my hands” cartoon (below).

This is not the sort of reception that an Indian prime minister should generate in London, with streets closed and nasty headlines and cartoons, but it showed how unwise Modi has been to allow his government to earn an authoritarian and anti-Muslim reputation that exacerbates memories of what happened in Gujarat.

Modi cartoon IMG_0379

Modi made a well drafted speech in parliament on the first day, full of references to the two nation’s closeness. An address to businessmen in the City of London’s Guildhall was a more humdrum list of (sometimes exaggerated) claims about how the government is reforming India’s economy and government.

There was nothing dramatic or unexpected in the announcements that the two sides said totalled some £9bn ($13.7bn), but there were useful initiatives on climate change, defence collaboration, cyber co-operation, and counter-terrorism. There was a list of over 20 commercial deals, most of which would have happened without the Modi visit. They ranged from a Madam Tussauds waxworks in Delhi to mostly smallish banking, insurance, healthcare and energy investments in both countries.

Overall, the visit has been a success in building new bonds, and it should lead to a significant boost in relations between the two countries, providing both sides follow through on what has been agreed. Modi is being correctly criticised for not progressing multi-billion dollar announcements made when he has visited other countries.

In this case however, India seems to be one step ahead of Britain because Navtej Sarna, a top diplomat who has just been appointed India’s new high commissioner (ambassador) in London, was part of Modi’s delegation, whereas the UK has strangely failed to announce a successor for Sir James Bevan, who ends his posting as high commissioner in Delhi next week.

Both prime ministers have too many other priorities and crises to handle to be able to pay much attention to Indo-British relations once this visit ends today, so top level experienced diplomacy is needed immediately to keep the new momentum going.

For Modi, it’s now back via Turkey to the problems he left behind in India a few days ago – a divided BJP after the Bihar election defeat for which he and his chief aide and party president Amit Shah were mostly responsible, aides and supporters who see Hindu nationalism as a more important priority than economic development, and his own failure to establish a record as an effective as opposed to limelight-seeking prime minister. That’s quite an agenda, but will he realise the need for change?



  1. […] event with about 2,000 UK-based Indians. This will be more low-key than his 60,000 people spectacular at Wembley Stadium on his last visit to London in November […]

  2. AlineDobbie wrote: “Disgrace to the UK, I think not; the whole world relies on BBC World Service and BBC News.”

    Yes, I agree that the whole world absolutely relies on the state-owned BBC, but that is only because ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’.

    But what would happen if, god forbid, the sun were to actually set on the British Empire? For example, if Scotland were to break away tomorrow, would the state-owned BBC have to be renamed because the government of an independent Scotland would no longer be an owner? If so, what would it be called?
    (i) The English Broadcasting Corporation (EBC)?
    (ii) The English-Welsh Broadcasting Corporation (EWBC)?
    (ii) The Wenglish Broadcasting Corporation (WBC)?
    (iv) The British Minus Miserly Scots Broadcasting Corporation (BMMSBC)?

    AlineDobbie wrote: “India and Indians so often seem to expect deference……

    Yes, the Indians do appear very arrogant. But that superficial aura of arrogance is merely an overcompensative cover for a deep-rooted inferiority complex that arises from their sense of inadequacy. Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner.

    Luckily, the English do not suffer from any such psychological problems and so always appear humble and down-to-earth in a very elegantly-understated sort of way.

    It should be noted, however, that there is still some hope that India may soon shed its mask of arrogance. I hear that Cipla has received clearance to market a generic version of Viagra-English (‘Viagra-E’) as a treatment for chronic erectile lip disorder. Clinical studies have shown that a single dose of Viagra-E can help Indians maintain a stiff upper lip for 8 hours on end. There is still some debate about side-effects, but I think the benefits of a stiff upper lip would vastly outweigh any potential harm elsewhere.

  3. More worrying for Mr Modi, however, are the grumbles of Indian and foreign investors who initially admired his qualities as a political rock star on permanent tour but now feel he is spending too much time abroad while the domestic economy is allowed to drift.

    “It’s Marie Antoinette version 2.0,” said one Indian businessman in London. “He’s not The Beatles, to be doing a show in every country he goes to.”

  4. Alinedobbie wrote: “State owned BBC….well tell that to the BBC. They spend their time knocking down governments especially ones to the the RIGHT of their own agenda.”

    You have made my point for me. Thank you.

    You have admitted that the BBC has a left-oriented bias. This implies that what they try to pass off as “news” is merely ideologically-oriented institutionalized-propaganda that will always be skewed against right-tilting governments EVERYWHERE (Christian-fundamentalist George Bush, Hindu-nationalist Modi et cetera).

    Therefore, the question the BBC reporter asked Modi is irrelevant because it emanates from nothing more than prejudiced left-wing propaganda. The same is true of the question asked by the journalist from the openly-Marxist newspaper The Guardian.

    The next time a US president visits India, imagine that the Indian foreign office arranges for a press-conference with the only questions to be asked by reporters from newspapers affiliated with the Indian Communist Parties. Would any reasonable person argue that such reporters will ask the “right” questions of the “imperialist, mass-murdering, anti-people global-policeman” who goes by the “sham-title” of the President of the United States? Probably not.

    In my opinion, if England can privatize its Postal Service, then there is NO REASON why it cannot privatize the BBC. After all, if the US can remain the World’s Greatest Democracy without resorting to state-ownership of media, I fail to see why England must continue to cling to state-owned corporations like the BBC or Channel-4.

    Institutions like the BBC & Channel-4 are more suitable to authoritarian states like Russia or Iran. They are a disgrace to a free country like England.

  5. Disgrace to the UK, I think not; the whole world relies on BBC World Service and BBC News. That they do not defer to the Conservative Government does not make them a toadying organisation….I often find their leftist bias a trial, but as with their reporting of the whole Paris/France tragedy it was extensive and fair and reliable. India and Indians so often seem to expect deference….that has gone out of western thinking. Channel 4 also has a very pro Palestinian bias because of its journalists…..but I suspect after this latest awful continuing tragedy and alarm even some of them will think again. A lot changed on Friday 13th November, the far reaching consequences of which we have yet to see unfold.

  6. Whatever said and done, wherever Narendra Modi has gone overseas, he has made an impact and has tried to convince Investors to look at India.

  7. Do your biases blind you to the extent that you are unable or unwilling to see how these memes, like rising intolerance and award-returnees and church attacks and Christians under attack, ebb and flow with state elections? As soon as the Delhi and Bihar elections were won, the frenetic bombardment of the pitch-du-jour vanishes from the media…. until the next important election.

    “I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.”
    William Tecumseh Sherman

  8. John Eliott wrote: “I didn’t because it isn’t – you are wrong Amitabh Mitra! ”

    I am sorry, John, but what isn’t what? Did you mean to say that BBC is not state-owned? If so, who owns the BBC? Not Rupert Murdoch, I hope.

    CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox News are NOT state-owned. God bless America.
    CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is state-owned.
    Russia Today, Press TV, France 24 are state-owned.
    BBC & Channel-4 are state-owned.

    Are you denying this?

  9. Lord GAUTAM BUDDHA born in Nepal everybody knows, how PM Modi said India is a Buddha’s country ? In Nepal ,Your action is inhuman and against the international law please open the blockade.

  10. An insightful article on the whole. Well written, clear and informative. I would just like to point out a minor typographical omission…

    You wrote: “India is becoming an increasing intolerant country. Why?”, asked a BBC reporter.

    I am sure you must have meant to write: “India is becoming an increasing intolerant country. Why?”, asked a reporter from the state-owned BBC.

    I have seen you make a clear distinction between private media and state-owned media in India. I am sure that you are intellectually consistent enough to make the same distinction between the two in your own country as well. So I concluded that it must have just been a typographical omission when you forgot to inform your readers that BBC is a state-owned media corporation, very much like Russia Today, Press TV, Al Jazeera, France 24 and so on.

  11. I didn’t because it isn’t – you are wrong Amitabh Mitra! je

  12. State owned BBC….well tell that to the BBC. They spend their time knocking down governments especially ones to the the right of their own agenda. Unlike in other countries the BBC does plough its own furrow. It fell foul of the Blair Government over the whole tragic Kelly suicide over whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it constantly snipes at Cameron’s government because it is hugely huffed that the Conservatives became a minority government and made Ed Miliband look like an idiot. End of.

  13. End of the day, as long Sri Modi connects with the ordinary people who go out and vote, he will continue as PM. I doubt if he can ever connect with the elite (like leftists & their naxal friends).

    Successive elections have shown that doers get rewarded. Elections have also shown how people dislike corruption and price rise. If he can keep a sharp focus on a few items & implement them without controversy in this term in office he should be thru in 2019 –

    1) Massive reduction in rules & regulations (“Ease of Business”)
    2) Price rise under check (middle class issue)
    3) Swatch Bharat – environment, toilets, drinking water & low cost healthcare (all are interlinked)
    4) Electricity in rural areas (this can do wonders for rural economy)
    5) Skill development & jobs.

    18 months is a reasonable time to come to grips with what we have inherited and know the road map for the future. If GoI buries its head and puts heart and soul in select high impact programmes, makes life easier for business and becomes an enabler of business, there will be economic momentum which will get a life of its own. The multiple foreign trips of Sri Modi, that too in quick succession, I guess, is to drum up support and create a positive image for India as an investment destination. Looking at the current economic scenario and the mess that was inherited, this Government has only one way – that is March Forward.

    Sri Modi’s personal integrity and commitment is unquestionable. But will loud mouths derail the development plank? Will be sad, if he fails. India will be in despair. Ofcourse, Lutyens elite will be happy if he fails – for their loot can continue.

    A few incidents don’t make India or Indians intolerant. The media hysteria will make any outsider think there is a revolution going on in India. Thus, I am not surprised at the negative coverage in West. The India which Sri Modi referred in his speech last night – the loving India which lives beyond headlines & TV screens – this India has always believed and continues to believe in “Vasudaiva Kutumbakam”. It always prays “Sarve Janaha Sukhinoh Bhavantu”. It taught us “Sathyam Vada, Dharmam Chara”. This India doesn’t believe in creating trouble for others. For centuries, it is at peace with itself and with everyone who stays here. It believes in Om Shanthi for itself and for everyone. Whether media accepts this or not, India and Indians will remain at peace.


  14. This is a robust assessment of the whole visit and the events that had led up to it. Mr Modi is/was welcome but the past cannot be forgotten. India needs to continue to be a beacon for tolerant diversity and peaceful respect for the beliefs and faiths of All, provided they too stay within the law. It cannot be that zealots within Hinduism seek to subvert the law or change that secularism and democratic diversity. Mr Modi must be aware that not all India agrees with his views and actions….Bihar was a stark reminder of that.

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