Modi looks to seize political initiative on Britain visit

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the guard of honour in London yesterday. Diplomats said deals worth up to £12 billion (S$26 billion) could be signed during Mr Modi's landmark visit.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the guard of honour in London yesterday. Diplomats said deals worth up to £12 billion (S$26 billion) could be signed during Mr Modi's landmark visit.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

LONDON • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi yesterday began a three-day visit to Britain that could yield trade deals worth billions of dollars and boost his authority after a damaging electoral defeat at home.

Bruised by his Bharatiya Janata Party's loss in an election in the populous state of Bihar on Sunday, after a campaign in which he played a prominent part, Mr Modi is seeking to regain the political initiative by increasing investments and growth.

Diplomats said deals worth up to £12 billion (S$26 billion) could be signed during his visit to London, with the Indian leader keen to buy 20 more BAE Systems Hawk trainer aircraft to be made in Bengaluru.

The emotional high point of the visit is likely to be a mass rally in Wembley Stadium today, during which Mr Modi will address about 60,000 supporters from the Indian diaspora in Britain, which numbers 1.5 million.

Mr Modi's visit - the first by an Indian prime minister to Britain since 2006 - is expected to receive a rapturous welcome in scenes that allies hope will reassert his authority and standing on the world stage after the blow in Bihar.

However, protests were also being planned by various groups opposed to Mr Modi, and to what they see as his party's aggressive Hindu nationalist agenda. Mr Modi has been widely criticised in the British press over the same issue.

More than 200 writers, including well-known authors such as Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Nikita Lalwani, have signed an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to raise concerns about freedom of expression in India during his meeting with Mr Modi yesterday.

"We, the undersigned, are extremely concerned about the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India," the letter said.

"The protests have grown beyond the community of Indian writers of all languages. Scientists, artists, film-makers, academics, scholars and actors have either complained about the climate of intolerance or returned awards on a scale unprecedented in India."

Mr Modi will also address the British Parliament before heading to the Guildhall, in the heart of the City of London financial district, where he will give a speech to a business audience.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Modi looks to seize political initiative on Britain visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe