Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Thursday India is committed to protecting the lives and views of its citizens and will not accept any untoward incident as he responded to a question on growing intolerance at a news conference with his British counterpart David Cameron.
“Any event in any corner of India – it doesn’t matter if there are even one or two incidents – we will not tolerate it and the law will deal with it strictly,” he said. “It does not matter whether such an incident is significant for a country of 125 crore people. For us, every incident is serious.”
India, he said, is the land of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi and “will not accept anything that goes against our social values”. He added: “India is a vibrant democracy where the lives, views and thoughts of ordinary citizens are protected under the Constitution. We are committed to this.”
Modi also said he wanted to set the record straight about reported restrictions on his travel to Britain. He said he had received a warm welcome when he came to the UK in 2003 and that he had never been barred from travelling to the nation.
Cameron evaded pointed questions on Modi not being allowed entry to the UK in the first two years of his stint as Prime Minister, saying the two leaders were focused on the future of the bilateral relationship. Modi, he said, “comes with an enormous mandate from the people of India” and with “a historic (parliamentary) majority”.
Modi faced uncomfortable questions from two British reporters on growing intolerance in India and his role during the 2002 riots in Gujarat during the news conference.
The Prime Minister is visiting Britain against the backdrop of a polarising debate on whether intolerance has grown under his watch. In recent weeks, writers and artists have returned government awards to protest against intolerance and attacks on freedom of expression while the opposition has targeted Modi for his silence on these issues.
Before Modi’s arrival in London, more than 200 writers, including novelists Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Val McDermid, signed a letter expressing concern about what they called “a rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices” in India. They urged Cameron to press Modi on rights abuses and human rights issues during their meetings.
In his statement at the news conference, Modi said the two countries had agreed to intensify political dialogue and hold regular bilateral summits.
“The conclusion of the civil nuclear agreement is a symbol of our mutual trust and our resolve to combat climate change. The agreement for cooperation in India’s Global Centre for Clean Energy Partnerships will strengthen safety and security in the global nuclear industry,” he said.
Cameron said companies of the two countries will sign deals worth £9 billion during Modi’s visit. He said new rupee-denominated bonds will allow Indian companies to issue debt in London.
Referring to defence and security cooperation, Modi said Britain will participate in India’s international fleet review in February 2016 and be a strong partner in defence modernization plans, including the “Make in India” mission in defence.
Pomp and protests greeted Modi as he arrived in Britain for a visit aimed at signing business deals worth crores of rupees amid the glitz of a mega-rally at Wembley and a lunch with Queen Elizabeth II.
As Modi held delegation-level talks with Cameron at 10, Downing Street in London, hundreds – including Sikhs, Nepalis and members of women’s groups – joined a protest and accused him of ignoring growing intolerance back at home.
First Indian PM to speak at UK parliament
After talks with Cameron, Modi became the first Indian PM to address Britain’s parliament and was feted with a flypast by the Red Arrows aerobatics team, which trailed smoke over London in the colours of India’s flag.
He focussed on the complementarities between India and the UK during the address to the British parliament, highlighting growing trade ties between the two sides and his plans to build a modern India.
Modi spoke after paying tribute at a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. He addressed the MPs at the Royal Gallery, a large hall inside parliament.
He made numerous references to the links between the two sides in areas such as culture, trade and politics. He also referred to TS Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men” and said “India will not let shadow fall between the hope and the reality”.
“There are many things on which it is hard to tell anymore if they are British or Indian: The Jaguar or the Scotland Yard, for example. The Brooke Bond tea or my friend late Lord Ghulam Nun’s curry,” he said, speaking in English.
Modi also said it took an Indian icon, Tata, to run a British icon – Jaguar Land Rover – and become Britain’s largest private sector employer.
He also referred to the links between India’s modern history and the British parliament. “So much history looms across our relationship...I will only say that many freedom fighters of India found their calling in the institutions of Britain. And many makers of modern India, including several of my distinguished predecessors, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh, passed through their doors,” he said.
Britain is the third largest investor in India, which in turn is the third largest source of foreign direct investment projects in the UK, he said. Britain is also a “preferred destination for Indian students”, he added.
Modi said Britain’s support has made it more possible for India to take its rightful place in global institutions and regimes and the two sides are also working together in science and technology and finding solutions to enduring problems such as food and health security.
“Our security agencies work together so that our children return home safe and our increasingly networked lives are not prey to the threats on cyber space,” he said.
Video of full speech
“This is a huge moment for our two great nations. So, we must seize our opportunities, remove the obstacles to cooperation, instil full confidence in our relations and remain sensitive to each other’s interests,” he added.
On Friday, Modi will have lunch with the queen and hold a glitzy rally, complete with fireworks, for thousands of supporters at London’s Wembley Stadium.