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Modi brushes away UK speck, begins ash tour

London, Aug. 21: Narendra Modi left for Geneva today after a four-day visit to London to collect the ashes of a Gujarati community worker, Shyamkrishna Varma, who died in Switzerland in 1930.

“His last wish was to have his ashes returned when India became independent,” said Modi, in an exclusive interview. “Sadly, this wish has not been fulfilled more than 50 years after Independence. When I became chief minister, I thought I must do this job.”

Modi stressed: “It is my greater responsibility because he comes from Gujarat. In Gujarat in Kutch, in his village, I will build a memorial.”

In London, Modi was given a warm welcome by Gujarati community leaders and groups and even a few Muslims but the British government kept him at arm’s length.

Modi brushed aside this apparent snub with the comment: “I am not here for a diplomatic tour. I am here to promote my Gujarat agenda.”

Pressed for an answer as to why he had been cold-shouldered by the British, he became agitated. “This is your version,” he argued. “I have never found the British government hostile. I am very thankful to the British government for their hospitality.”

It seems the “hospitality” involved the security provided by the government, which clearly did not want any mishap to befall Modi while he was on British soil.

Modi did visit the House of Commons, but only at the invitation of Barry Gardener, a London MP with many Gujaratis in his constituency. He is not a member of the government.

Asked why he was such a controversial character in India, Modi blamed the Indian media for turning him into a hate figure. “You know the role of the media during my election campaign but the response from the people was very different,” he replied.

“That’s why I have a two-thirds elected majority. The controversies are very, very limited to the media. So the question is not whether I am controversial or not but the question is if the media creates a controversy, what is the reason people do not accept this controversy. Why is the media totally cut off from the people' Why has the media lost live contact with the people'”

He alleged: “A section of the media does not want the truth to reach the people. This type of confusion is within a small section of the intellectual class.”

Modi is trying to promote a global business conference, combined with a Navratri dance festival, in Gujarat next month. “I want to tell the world this is Gujarat, the land of opportunities. It is such a fertile land if you invest one rupee, you will earn one pound.”

He picked out petroleum, gas, chemical industries, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, IT, diamonds and jewellery as areas suitable for overseas investment.

“My motto is Gujarat is not just an economic entity, it is many things,” he said. “In the next programme, (it is) how to club commerce and culture, trade and tradition, entrepreneurship and entertainment.”

Asked why many people were afraid he was ushering in a new and dangerous brand of chauvinistic politics, an irritated Modi shot back: “Do not speak in the name of the people. Those who are afraid, they don’t have contact with the roots. The ground reality is not what you are talking about. Is it possible a party can get two-thirds majority if popular support is not there' As far as communal harmony is concerned, do you know the smallest minority of the whole universe is Parsee, and they are living very, very prosperously in my state and in my country.”

Yesterday, following the standing ovations Modi received when he addressed 2,000 ticket-only Gujaratis at the Wembley Conference Centre, the chief minister was applauded by a group of 200 Gujarati community and business leaders when he was welcomed at the offices of the Gujarat Samachar by its editor and publisher, C.B. Patel.

Modi ignored the chants of a group of 20 demonstrators who shouted: “Modi is a murderer.”

Before leaving London today, Modi issued a statement in which he said: “A specific plan of my government is to continue with initiatives that would take the Gujarat economy even further and bring about rapid development. For this, a ‘Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit’ is being organised in Ahmedabad and Surat from 28-30 September, 2003.”

He also said: “A second, equally important, purpose of my visit was to interact with members of the vibrant Gujarati community in the UK, many of whom have family and business links with Gujarat. I have always maintained that I represent all 50 million Gujarati brothers and sisters. We share a common heritage and a common future.”

A young Muslim man, who was in Godhra after the train was burnt, offered this explanation for why Modi has gone down so well with Gujaratis in London: “In some ways, many British Gujaratis are more communal than those back home in Gujarat. May be they see Modi as a new Vallabbhai Patel.”

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