After ‘Nav pe Charcha’ on the Seine with President Francois Hollande in Paris in April, a similar cruise is being planned with Prime Minister David Cameron along the Thames during the November visit of PM Narendra Modi to Britain.
The idea, credited to foreign secretary S Jaishankar, was one of the public highlights of Modi’s visit to France. Officials now hope the event will lead to similar ‘high optics’ in the backdrop of the London Eye, Big Ben and the Palaces of Parliament.
Officials said Downing Street was keen to ensure a high-impact visit by Modi, with trade, India’s infrastructure development, skills and economy high on the agenda. There is awareness of an increasing uneasiness in New Delhi over recent visa issues adversely affecting Indians and Indian companies based in Britain.
Two key issues on the agenda will be Modi’s smart cities project and availing British technology to clean the Ganga. In 1957, the Thames faced much pollution but efforts by environment officials since have transformed the river.
There is expectation here that Modi will announce the addition of Britain to the list of countries whose citizens can avail of e-tourist visas before arrival -- a demand raised by several major tour operators.
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. But questions remain over the possibility of his visiting a gurdwara, with 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, say something substantial, instead of just coming and praising the community”.
If the process of the Maharashtra government acquiring the Ambedkar House in London is completed by then, Modi is also likely to visit the place where the architect of India’s Constitution lived while studying at the London School of Economics.
Modi’s visit is likely to attract some opposition from groups focussed on Jammu and Kashmir and the 2002 Gujarat riots.