UK Sikhs pin hopes on PM Modi's visit in November

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jul 20, 2015 00:41 IST

After ‘Naav Pe Charcha’ on the Seine with French President Francois Hollande in Paris in April, a similar river cruise on the Thames is being planned with UK Prime Minister David Cameron when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Britain in November.

Credited to foreign secretary S Jaishankar, the idea of interaction on a boat was one of the public highlights of Modi’s visit to France. Officials hope the event would lead to similar “high optics” in the backdrop of the London Eye, Big Ben and the palaces of parliament. As British and Indian officials prepare for the visit, there is an expectation here that Modi will announce the addition of Britain to the list of countries whose citizens can avail of
an e-tourist visa before arrival — a demand raised by several major tour operators and others in the UK.

Officials said 10 Downing Street was keen to ensure a high-impact visit by Modi, with trade, skills, economy and India’s infrastructure development high on the agenda. There is an awareness of increasing uneasiness in New Delhi over recent visa issues affecting Indians and Indian companies based in Britain adversely.

Besides a high-profile address to the large Indian diaspora here at the Wembley stadium or the Millennium Dome, Modi is likely to visit a temple in London. However, questions remain over the possibility of his visiting a London gurdwara, security being the prime concern.

Senior sources in the Sikh community told HT that given the recent history of Punjab, “Khalistan” and the so-called “blacklist” of individuals living abroad for years but unable to visit India, Modi “will have to offer something… substantial… instead of just coming and praising the community”. Modi’s visit is likely to attract some opposition from groups focussed on Jammu and Kashmir and the 2002 Gujarat riots. If the process of the Maharashtra government’s acquiring the Ambedkar house in London is completed, he is likely to visit the north London house where the architect of India’s Constitution lived while studying at the London School of Economics.

Two key issues on the agenda during the visit are Modi’s ‘smart cities’ project and using British technology to clean the Ganga. In 1957, the Thames faced much pollution, but efforts by environmental officials since have transformed it, winning international awards.

The last bilateral prime ministerial visit to Britain was by Manmohan Singh in 2006. Since then, British PMs have visited India four times (Gordon Brown in 2008 and David Cameron thrice). The 2004 Joint Declaration between the two countries envisaged annual summits. There was much uneasiness in British circles when Modi chose France as the first European country to visit, in April, but it was overtaken largely by the campaigning before the May 7 general elections in Britain.

Cameron, who met Modi in Australia during the G20 meeting in October last, has often declared his eagerness to welcome Modi in London. His previous government (2010-15) had reversed the previous Labour government’s decision to boycott Gujarat after the 2002 riots in the state.

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