Britain has rolled out the red carpet for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), in the hope of forging stronger trade and economic ties with India in the post-Brexit era.
Modi and 52 other heads of state and governments are attending the CHOGM, which was formally inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth at the Buckingham Palace on April 19.
This is the first time in a decade an Indian prime minister is attending the summit, which is held every two years. Prince Charles travelled to India to personally invite the Prime Minister. The Queen, too, sent a personal note inviting Modi.
India – for which the Commonwealth is a strategic multilateral forum from which China, its great rival, is absent – is going to invest more than a billion pounds in post-Brexit Britain.
The two countries signed multiple agreements and MoUs in technology, defence, security, trade and investment when Modi met his British counterpart Theresa May at her official residence 10, Downing Street on April 18.
The Guardian reported Britain is “lavishing diplomatic attention over Narendra Modi”.
“The Indian prime minister has been rewarded for his commitment to the Commonwealth with Wednesday’s lengthy bilateral meeting with May, an audience with the Queen, a visit with Prince Charles to the Science Museum and a commitment that British intelligence will help fight Pakistan-based militant groups,” it reported.
The Guardian, however, noted that Brexit opponents claim the chances of Britain securing a trade deal with India is a “fantasy” unless the UK makes major concessions on Indian skilled labour accessing British markets.
Modi is being driven around in a limousine, while all other Commonwealth leaders are travelling in a bus, NDTV reported.
The Independent reported that Modi has called for even closer trading links with Britain after Brexit. It quoted Modi as saying that London – as a world leading financial services hub – will remain “of great importance” to India. There will be “no dilution in the importance of the UK to India post-Brexit,” Modi said.
India is set to overtake Britain and France to become the world’s fifth largest economy by the yearend.
May, who is laying her bets on the strategic importance of this partnership, said, “Our trade partnership with India is showing how we can remove barriers to increase trade between our two countries.”
Conscious of the strategic importance of improving trade links with India, a joint statement issued after the meeting between Modi and May also referred to India’s important role within the Indo-Pacific region.
Modi held a series of fruitful bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the CHOGM on April 19.
He held discussions with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina and Seychelles President Danny Faure.
“Neighbourhood first! Connecting with a neighbour and a close friend, PM Narendra Modi and Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina had a productive exchange of views on various issues of bilateral interest on the sidelines of CHOGM 2018,” ministry of external affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.
However, there was no interaction between Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
While Modi is the toast of the summit, the Prime Minister was greeted by angry protesters in London.
But as Modi was meeting May, protesters holding placards with slogans such as “Modi go home” and “We stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed” gathered outside Downing Street and at Parliament Square.
The demonstrators included Muslims and Sikhs, who called for end to religious persecution, and human rights activists, who called for end to violence against women, Dawn reported.
In a crime that shocked India, an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Jammu and Kashmir was kidnapped, drugged and held for several days while she was raped repeatedly and then murdered.
In the other case, a state lawmaker from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party stands accused of raping a teenager in Uttar Pradesh. No action was taken against the politician until the girl threatened to set herself on fire earlier this month. Her father died soon afterwards from injuries he sustained while in police custody.
Modi addressed outrage over the rapes during an interaction with the Indian diaspora in London and promised justice for the victims.