By Nadeem Saeed
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is coming to the UK on a three-day state visit starting from November 12. It will be a first visit of the UK by an Indian premier in nearly a decade while during that period UK Prime Ministers paid four visits to India. Of them, three are by David Cameron during his first term in the 10 Downing Street.
India has recently become the fastest growing major economy in the world replacing China by doubling its nominal GDP to more than $2 trillion in a period of just seven years. Struggling to come out of the shadows of economic downturn of 2008, Britain needs more foreign investment while India being one of the fastest growing economies looking for investment opportunities abroad is a potential partner to work with.
India is already the third largest foreign investor in Britain after the USA and France. Over 800 Indian companies are operating here, employing more than 100,000 workers.
Prime Minister Cameron is expected to accord a warm welcome to his Indian counterpart while a royal lunch at the Buckingham Palace is also on the Prime Minister Modi’s UK itinerary. But his big showing will be at London’s Wembley Stadium where India Europe Forum is organising a grand event “UK Welcomes Modi” on November 13.
Modi became premier of the world’s largest democracy last year after securing a thumping parliamentary majority for his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after successfully capturing imaginations of youth and urban middle class. India has the largest youth population in the world with 28 per cent of it is 10 to 24 year-olds.
According to an estimate some 13 million youth seek jobs in India every year. Modi promised while electioneering to create 100 million jobs by 2022 in the country with improved manufacturing and modernising the service sector. In the first year of Modi government investors poured $22 billion into Indian stocks and bonds but the growth could not pick up while the job growth also remained sluggish.
But Modi’s aura is by and large undiminished despite his less promising performance compared to the expectations he had aroused. Given India’s global economic significance Modi is becoming equally popular among international leaders as he is at home. Industrialised nations with present and future business interests in India are rolling out red carpets for Modi who had been an international political pariah for over a decade before becoming the Prime Minister of India.
America denied him visa while Europe and the UK banned him after his alleged actions or inactions in bloody “Gujarat riots” that took place in 2002 in the Indian state of Gujarat while Modi was its Chief Minister. More than 1000 people, mostly Muslims, were said to be killed during the riots.
Immerse in the Hindu supremacist philosophy of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Modi did not show any remorse in the aftermath of the riots that took place under his watch and considered to be the worst communal violence in that part of the world after the bloodbath of partition in 1947. His only regret was “I could not manage the news media better”.
In 2012 while poising to become BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Modi did finally sought forgiveness for any mistakes he might have made as the state’s chief minister. His addressees, however, were not the families of the victims of the ‘Gujarat Riots’ but the 60 million Gujaratis.
He is coming to the UK in the backdrop of growing communal violence in parts of India on the question of cow slaughtering while at the same time it seems the space for dissent is also shrinking in Modi’s India.
Cow is considered to be a holy creature by many of Hindus while for Muslims beef including cow meat is halal (religiously legitimate). The difference over the status of cow might have led to violent clashes off and on in the past but in recent weeks and months they are somehow becoming a regular feature with some states officially banning consumption of cow meat.
Taking lead from the state’s willingness to take sides in religious differences, some Hindu vigilante groups are taking this onto themselves to stop cow slaughtering and beef eating by taking law and order in their hands.
A 50-year-old Muslim Akhlaq Ahmed was lynched to death in Dadri area of Uttar Pradesh by a mob on September 28 after the rumours that he had beef in his home fridge. In a separate incident, a Kashmiri Muslim Zahid Rasool was burnt to death on October 9 over what the Indian media is calling ‘beef rumour’. His death led to protests, strikes and violence in Indian administered Kashmir.
An academic and rationalist Prof M M Kalburgi was shot dead at his home in the state of Karnataka in August allegedly by Hindu extremists who visited him posing as his pupils. Outspoken Prof Kalburgi had drawn the ire of religious groups for denouncing superstition and idol worship.
But Modi, by and large, has been reticent as he was during and after the riots of 2002 in Gujarat. His indifference to the mounting hostility towards fringe sections of the Indian society has sparked reaction from literati. Dozens of authors, intellectuals and poets have surrendered the state honours they received for their work and services.
The RSS, which is considered to be the guru organisation of ruling BJP, has criticised the writers who have returned their medals saying “they are suffering from the disease of secularism”. The organisation which celebrated its ninetieth foundation day this week has always been critical of the secular foundations of the Indian constitution.
Modi’s pro-business and foreign investment friendly overtures aside, his shabby past human right record and increasing intolerance against minorities and dissent within one year of his rule have raised alarm bells in and outside the country.
Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and Scottish National Party’s stalwart Alex Salmond have sponsored a parliamentary motion calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to raise human rights concerns with Prime Minister Modi when both the leaders will meet in November.
An online protest group #SikhLivesMatter held a large rally outside the Indian High Commission in London on October 22 to protest against victimisation of Sikhs in India while a Muslim activist Tariq Mahmood has filed an application with Deptford Police Station in South London to charge and arrest Modi for his alleged role in “Gujarat Riots” in which three Britons were also said to be killed.
The Supreme Court of India had however exonerated Modi in 2013 of any wrongdoing in the riots, a verdict currently facing challenge by the victim families and Muslim groups.
Raging Hindu nationalism under Modi is providing a field day to the hawkish elements in neighbouring arch rival Pakistan, a country which had drifted towards religious bigotry from the very onset of its being, to mock India’s secular credentials.
Minorities including Hindus and Christians have been subjected to discriminatory laws in the so called land of pure’s and are made to live a life of second class citizens. Islamic vigilante groups and mobs often hit the headlines with their street justice.
Hindus are said to be mass migrating to India as reportedly there have to be set up as many as 400 refugee centres in recent years in the Indian state of Rajasthan which shares its borders with the Sindh province of Pakistan. Sindh has the largest Hindu population in Pakistan.
With her dismal record on minority rights and freedom of speech Pakistan and its establishment, which now include its hawkish media, do not hold the moral compass to score points.
The recent attacks on minority groups and freedom of speech can prove further damaging to India’s self-styled branding of ‘India shining’ after earring notoriety for being “rape capital” of the world.
India’s global economic might is the outcome of market reforms rolled out in 1990s by Congress under Prime Minister Narashima Rao which were strengthened further by Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh, who incidentally was also a Congressman.
Modi is having a honeymoon of his popularity as a business-friendly strongman but he has yet to fulfil the promise of “achay din aa gaye” meaning good days have come. Where his critics should wait for four more years to gauge his performance before riling him, his fans should also see the economic achievements of India in their historical perspective.