A large photo of Narendra Modi with folded hands and the caption “All is forgiven, Mr Modi” led the British media’s prominent coverage of the Prime Minister’s visit to London, with headlines putting his high-profile trip in the context of his controversial past.
The photo was published on the front page of The Daily Telegraph on Friday. Another image of Modi and his British counterpart David Cameron at the guard of honour on Thursday was splashed on the front page of The Times. Other newspapers reported the first day of Modi’s visit -including an address to parliament - on their inside pages.
Another large photograph accompanied the Telegraph’s report inside, with the headline “Pomp and ceremony for an ex-pariah”, and the strapline: “India’s prime minister, a man once shunned by Britain and the US, is greeted with all honours, untroubled by the protestors”.
The Times’ main report was headlined “Britain buys into Modi mania”, and another report on protests outside 10, Downing Street and in Parliament Square was printed in bold with the headline, “Small earthquake in London, many ears split”.
Modi is visiting Britain against the backdrop of the rout of his Bharatiya Janata Party in Bihar polls and a polarising debate on whether intolerance has grown on his watch. The Prime Minister subjected to one of the toughest press conferences he has had to face, with the very first question probing him on the rising intolerance in India. Modi said his government is committed to protect the lives and views of all citizens.
Columnist Philip Collins’ piece in The Times was headlined “Hold your nose and shake Modi by the hand”. He noted that the “egregious PM is not a man who shares our values - but Britain’s relationship with India is bigger than one man”.
Using a large image of Modi and Cameron, The Guardian carried the headline: “High security and Cameron’s praise for former persona non grata Modi”. The newspaper carried a piece critical of Modi by noted British Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor.
The Independent was the only major newspaper to carry an editorial on the visit, titled “All due respect”, which said: “Modi’s visit is an opportunity for Britain to raise sensitive issues - but it must do so with candour and sincerity.”
The Financial Times featured two large reports on the visit, one headlined “Cameron looks to ‘free’ UK-India ties”. It published a full-page advertisement by minerals major Vedanta, which has large interests in India, that welcomed Modi to Britain.
Television and radio too covered the visit prominently, with discussions featuring leading Indian-origin individuals based in Britain presenting a range of opinions on Modi.
Most newspaper reports focussed on Modi’s meeting with Cameron along with news of protests held in parts of London. Nearly all the reports underlined the change in how Modi was treated - from being denied entry to Britain to being accorded red carpet treatment.
The Guardian reported Cameron had swept aside criticism of his decision to offer a lavish reception for Modi and that he had hailed the “enormous mandate” for Modi from the people of India.
In the days preceding Modi’s visit, a number of British publications had questioned his human rights record and analysed the Bihar elections as a decline in his popularity. The Guardian carried a series of articles criticising him.