A lot happened on Narendra Modi's second visit to the United Kingdom in less than three years — the prime minister addressed the Indian diaspora in a well-attended and well-managed Bharat ki Baat, angry protesters outside British Parliament demonstrating against Modi's visit and a possible post-Brexit bilateral free trade deal with Britain. While the Indian media focussed on prime minister's Bharat ki Baat address, which was moderated by CBFC chairman Prasoon Joshi, the British media's spotlight was on the trade deals that the two countries signed.
Under fire back home for the BJP-led government's inability to act on time against the rape cases reported from Jammu's Kathua and Uttar Pradesh's Unnao, Modi (in his Bharat ki Baat address) attempted to allay fears of many that the government was not supporting rapists or was averse to criticism. "When a child is raped, what could be worse? Is that the time to compare to metrics versus the earlier governments? When a girl comes home late, all parents are worried. When a boy goes out and comes home late, why don't we ask him where he was? We must make our men accountable. Look...I have lived the life of a poor man, I don't need to learn about it from a book and I know how tough that life is. Nothing is more important to me than to make our country safer, cleaner....", Modi told a massive crowd assembled for his 'Bharat ki Baat' address in London's Westminster Central Hall on Wednesday night.
The Indian media dubbed Modi's Wednesday interaction with the Indian diaspora as the prime minister's way of paving the path for the upcoming 2019 Lok Sabha election and also Karnataka Assembly election scheduled for 12 May. British media, however, scrutinised India's possible role in post-Brexit bilateral free trade deal and the two countries signing off on series of commercial agreements worth up to £1 billion ($1.42 billion). Officials in the Theresa May government also said that the investments would create or safeguard 5,750 British jobs.
The Guardian noted that the deal with UK might not be as lucrative as the India-European Union (EU) trade deal as Modi's priority was a free trade deal with the EU. Unless the UK makes "major concessions" on Indian skilled labour, the chances of Britain securing a trade deal with India "superior" to that of the Indian-EU deal is wishful thinking, the London-based newspaper noted.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who is hoping to secure a free trade agreement with India after Brexit said: "Our trade partnership is showing how we can remove barriers to increase trade between our two countries." Total trade in goods and services between Britain and India was £18 billion in 2017. Modi also said that there will be no dilution in the importance of the UK to India post-Brexit. "Britain will be just as important to India after it leaves the EU as it is now," Modi reportedly said.
That Modi became the first prime minister in just under a decade to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) of 2018, justified the lavish treatment of the prime minister by his counterpart and the British Royal family. The last CHOGM attended by India was by former prime minister Manmohan Singh at Port of Spain in 2009. "The 2011 edition in Perth was boycotted by Manmohan (Singh) on account of Australia's reversal of the decision to export uranium to India. New Delhi also gave the 2013 event in Colombo a miss after taking note of the charges of massive human rights violations against Tamils by Sri Lanka. In 2015, Modi sent External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Malta in his stead," a Firstpost article noted.
After decades of sidelining the Commonwealth as a relic of their imperial past, many in Britain are now promoting the group of ex-colonies as a ready-made market for what they hope to be the country's buccaneering global business spirit after the exit from the EU. International trade secretary Liam Fox cast the Commonwealth as a more natural fit for Britain than the centralised EU. Ever since the Brexit vote campaign, they referred to the "old friends" in the Commonwealth, some of whom still have Queen Elizabeth II as their sovereign, use English as their official language, and share a cultural and sporting heritage.
"As we leave the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we have the opportunity to reinvigorate our Commonwealth partnerships and usher in a new era, harnessing the movement of expertise, talent, goods and capital between our nations, in a way that we have not done for a generation or more," Fox was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. Apart from trade deals, especially at a time when Britian is looking at former colonies for help, the media in Britain also focussed on protests against the May government which has come under intense scrutiny over its treatment of Commonwealth citizens in the Windrush scandal.
The plight of legal residents wrongly identified as living in Britain illegally has erupted as the country hosts leaders from the 53-nation Commonwealth of the U.K. and its former colonies. May met with Caribbean leaders and envoys Tuesday, and told them "we are genuinely sorry for any anxiety that has been caused." People who came to Britain after World War II are known as the "Windrush generation," after the ship Empire Windrush, which carried hundreds of Caribbean immigrants to Britain in 1948.
Most British newspapers carried straight reports on the protests held against the Indian prime minister's three-day UK visit and largely refrained from reporting anything sensational.
The Guardian, however, published an oped that said, "Let’s hold him to account for the horrific rapes committed in the name of Hindu nationalism." The article, titled "India is a ‘republic of fear" said, "It is Hindutva, the ideology of the BJP and of the family of rightwing Hindu organisations it belongs to, which is today attempting to profoundly transform India into a monolithic Hindu nation from which minorities and dissidents are forcibly excluded." Citing examples of several incidents of hate crimes and crimes against women reported in India, the article said, "These developments are not a matter of uncontrollable religious hatred but a systematic move towards a fascistic Hindu state, led by a modern neoliberal party, which has its share of billionaires and hedge fund managers."
The article, quite harshly-worded, at one point alleges that Hindutva leader and RSS ideologue Vinayak Damodar Savarkar justified rape of Muslim women. The Guardian article further connects Savarkar's alleged "writings" and commented that these views "legitimised the rapes and murders of Muslim women in Gujarat in 2002, and the recent Kathua child-rape case."
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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2018 16:39:15 IST