After belying expectations that London would be one of the first desinations of Prime Minister Narendra Modi after forming the government in May 2014, preparations have now begun for his visit to the UK in November -- the first by an Indian Prime Minister in nearly a decade.
The last prime ministerial visit to that country was by Manmohan Singh in 2006. Since then, UK-India relations have plateaued, but now they are expected to be reinvigorated by Modi’s forthcoming visit. No major agreement has been signed between the two countries in recent years.
Foreign secretary S Jaishankar was in London for two days this week to meet British representatives and prepare the groundwork for the November visit. The dates of the visit, however, are yet to be finalised.
During the visit, the two prime ministers are likely to announce the ‘twinning’ of some British and Indian cities, particularly in the context of the Indian government’s plans for ‘smart cities’. Currently, Rajkot is ‘twinned’ with Leicester, which has a large population of Gujarati-origin people.
Contributing to the Modi government’s ‘skills’ agenda and participating in efforts to clean the Ganga are expected to figure on the agenda.
Modi is likely to reiterate India’s demand to clamp down on anti-India forces functioning and raising funds in Britain, and the extradition of individuals such as Tiger Hanif, Ravi Shankaran and Raymond Varley.
Since 2006, British prime ministers have visited India four times (Gordon Brown in 2008 and David Cameron three times), reflecting something of a ‘one-way traffic’. The 2004 Joint Declaration between the two countries envisaged annual summits.
Besides bilateral engagements, Modi is expected to receive another ‘rockstar’ reception from Britain’s large Indian diaspora, nearly half of them with origins in Gujarat. He is likely to address the Indian community at the Wembley Stadium or the Millennium Dome.
There was much uneasiness in British circles when Modi chose France as the first European country to visit (in April), but it was largely overtaken by the campaigning before 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 government (2010-15) had reversed the previous Labour government’s decision to boycott Gujarat after the 2002 riots in the state.