| Narendra Modi
London, Aug. 19: Narendra Modi, who is on a four-day visit to Britain to promote what he is pleased to call “vibrant Gujarat”, has been snubbed by the British government which has failed to grant him a single appointment.
By way of compensation, the Gujarat chief minister received at least three standing ovations when he addressed a large gathering of Gujaratis for 70 minutes in Hindi at the Wembley Conference in west London.
Wembley is one of the centres of Gujarati settlement in Britain but the ticket-only audience had come from all over the country.
Security was strict to keep out a crowd of 200 anti-Modi demonstrators who flung eggs at him and called him a “murderer”.
The Indian high commissioner in London, Ronen Sen, went on stage with Modi and was also due to host a dinner for him tomorrow evening at his Kensington Palace residence but the chief minister’s programme in London has been drawn up largely by the “Friends of Gujarat” and the growing and increasingly influential British wing of the BJP.
Modi is in Britain ostensibly to strengthen links with the 3,000,000-strong Gujarati community in Britain, which includes many established and successful business families, and to encourage investment in Gujarat.
However, informed sources suggest the chief minister has also come to raise election funds for the BJP. If so, he will find many willing donors as the anti-Muslim, anti-Pakistan, pro-Hindu sentiment is spilling over to Britain from Gujarat.
Modi is taking care to present himself as a modern man, keen to encourage British Gujaratis and foreign businesses to invest in a wide variety of fields in Gujarat, including bio-technology, holistic healthcare, the chemical industries, IT, diamond and jewellery. He was due to have a meeting today with Nicky Oppenheimer, the biggest name in the world of diamonds.
He met the Indian press last night at his hotel and showed them a video of his ambitious plans for a prosperous Gujarat of the 21st century. He disclosed plans to stage Navratri from September 25 to October 5, which he promised, would be “the world’s longest dance festival”.
“We will win over the world through our hospitality,” he said grandly.
The image Modi enjoys in Britain is not a happy one, though. Yesterday’s Guardian newspaper carried the kind of story, which would have persuaded most self-respecting politicians to reach for the nearest lawyer.
“He is blamed for the death of 2,000 Muslims in India. So why is this man in Wembley'” read the headline above three pictures. One showed Modi against the backdrop of a lotus graphic; another was of a Hindu fanatic waving a long knife; and the third of a Muslim against a poster, “Modi you are a murderer”.
A mini-profile of the man was called: “The single vegetarian likened by some to Hitler and Pol Pot.”
Asked at his news conference what he thought of such comparisons, Modi said loftily: “I have not read (the Guardian) and I would not like to (read it).”
He spoke softly in English and kept his answers commendably short.
Asked whether there was room for Muslims in his brave new Gujarat, Modi replied that he had never referred to majority and minority communities.
“There are 50 million Gujaratis,” he said. “After my election victory, the very same day, I said, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ This is a government not only for those who voted for me but also for those who didn’t.”
Despite his hectic schedule of business meetings Modi found time yesterday to participate in the aarti at the Swaminarayan Temple of Neasden, north London.