A touch of royalty, the feel of affinity and an air of cordiality marked the highly successful visit of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the United Kingdom from November 12 to 14, 2015.
If diplomatic whispers were any indication, Queen Elizabeth II was delighted to invite him for lunch at the Buckingham Palace against the background of his political critics at home who taunt him as a teaboy.
Mr Modi is never shy to reveal his hard upbringing, a childhood life drenched in an environment of poverty and sell tea to supplement the family income.
The Queen, with a broad smile and handshake, greeted Mr Modi as he strode into the palace in his typical iconic Indian dress.
His British counterpart David Cameron invited him to the Chequers for talks soaked as they were in age-old relations. The two later made their way to the Wembley stadium to savour a warm, cheering yet intermittently boisterous reception.
The highlight of his visit was his address to the British Parliament where he got a standing ovation.
In India, a hard critic and former Chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir Omar Abdullah described his presentation in the House of Commons as ‘an excellent speech.’
“Why can’t we just take pride in that?” he tweeted in a rejoinder to Mr Modi’s detractors.
On the joint Press conference of the two premiers. Mr Abdullah’s sharp remarks raised eyebrows in journalist and academic circles.
“I think we can safely assume that the British Press was not advised about what to ask and what not to ask,” he said.
In his address to the British Parliament, Mr Modi said that much of modern India was linked to the Parliament building.
“So much history looms across our relationship,” he said, noting that many of the freedom fighters found their calling in the institutions of Britain and many makers of modern India, including his predecessors from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh, passed through the Parliament doors.
“There are many things on which it is hard to tell anymore if they are British or Indian; the Jaguar or the Scotland Yard, for example.
“And our strongest debates are whether the Lord’s pitch swings unfairly or the wicket at Eden Gardens (in Kolkata) cracks too early. And we love the Bhangra rap from London just as you like the English novel from India.”
He said the UK was the third largest investor in India behind Singapore and Mauritius. India was the third largest source of Foreign Direct Investment projects in the UK.
Indians invest more in Britain than in the rest of European Union combined. It was not because they want to save on interpretation costs but because they “find an environment that is welcoming and familiar.”
“It takes an Indian icon, Tata, to run a British icon and become the nation’s largest private sector employer,” Mr Modi said.
Britain remains a preferred destination for Indian students and an Indian company is taking a thousand British students to India to skill them in information technology.
“Strong as our partnership is, for a relationship such as ours, we must set higher ambitions. We are two democracies, two strong economies and two innovative societies,” he said.\
Mr Modi said that the fault lines were shifting from the boundaries of the nations into the ‘web of our societies’ and the streets of cities.
“And terrorism and extremism are a global force that are larger than their changing names, groups, territories and targets. The world must speak in one voice and act in unison to combat this challenge of our times. We must adopt a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism in the United Nations without delay.
“There should be no distinction between terrorist groups or discrimination between nations. There should be a resolve to isolate those who harbour terrorists and willingness to stand with nations that will fight them honestly. And, we need a social movement against extremism in countries where it is most prevalent and every effort to delink religion and terrorism,” he said.
On his way back home from London, the Indian Premier attended the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey. He flew to Malaysia soon after to attend the ASEAN Summit.
Mr Modi said that the ten member-countries of ASEAN form an economic powerhouse, and have emerged as one of the largest economic zones in the world.
The macro-economic stability had been the main reason for growth and stability in South-East Asia. This showed that the growth depended more on the spirit of people rather than the size of the population.
Speaking about India, he said, “We must reform to transform.”
“Reform to me is just a way station on the long journey to destination. The destination is the transformation of India. We are working in all ways to make India a global manufacturing hub.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi at the Drum (Treasury Quadrangle) in London on November 12, 2015.
(Picture by Press Information Bureau, Government of India)