UK: Modi arrives for business deals – and protests

After 10-year ban, India’s PM Narendra Modi arrives in the UK to criticism and fanfare.

Indian writers and cultural activists
Indian writers and cultural activists hold a silent protest march against recent attacks on free speech [Associated Press]

After being banned from entering for 10 years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in the United Kingdom on Thursday with critics denouncing moves against freedom of speech in India since his government took power a year ago.

Trade and defence deals worth billions of dollars are expected to be signed during Modi’s maiden visit.

“Economic and security concerns will be on the agenda. Multibillion defence deals are likely to be inked during the trip,” Nalin Kohli, national spokesman of the BJP, told Al Jazeera.

Modi had been denied a visa for more than a decade by the UK government over his alleged involvement in 2002 religious violence, in which more than 1,000 people – mostly Muslims – were killed.

Critics accuse Modi of doing nothing to stop the bloodshed when he was chief minister of Gujarat state. He has denied any involvement or wrongdoing.

 A setback for India’s prime minister?

Activist group Awaaz Network and academics based in the UK plan to stage protests at Downing Street, where Modi will hold talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

In an open letter, Pen International, a global body of writers based in the UK, called on Cameron to engage Modi on the issues of free speech and minority rights.

“We, the undersigned, are extremely concerned about the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance, and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India,” the letter said.

RELATED: Indian scholars return awards to demand free speech

More than 40 Indian writers have returned the country’s highest literary award, the Sahitya Akademi, in protest against the government’s silence over rising violence against dissenting voices.


Critics say since the current government came to power last May, attacks against minorities have increased and free speech has taken a hit.

“If you see events in the last few months, India has seen a spate of attacks on minorities and there has been attempts of polarisation between Hindus and Muslims,” Subir Sinha, a professor at SOAS’ Department of Development Studies, said.

“Ever since this government came to power, members of parliament and ministers from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have uttered outrageous statements against minorities, rationalists and secular people,” Sinha told Al Jazeera from London over the phone.

“Supporters of Modi regularly attack intellectuals,” he added.

RELATED: Silencing dissenting voices in India

Modi will meet business leaders during his visit as his government has pushed for foreign direct investment (FDI) with the goal of making India a manufacturing hub.

Just before leaving India, Modi tweeted, “Hopefully this visit will strengthen economic ties between India and UK and bring more investment to India.”

Indian authors protest against right-wing attacks

Modi won last year’s national elections on the promise to create more jobs and boost the economy with business-friendly laws.

Earlier this week, his government announced easing of FDI rules in 15 sectors, including defence and civil aviation.

One of the highlights of the three-day trip will be Modi’s address to supporters at Wembley stadium in London on Friday. More than 50,000 people are expected to attend the event.

“The prime minister has reached out to non-resident Indians and people of Indian origin in a rather significant manner to strengthen the emotional and cultural bond. This government sees them as active partners in India’s success story,” Kohli said.

Source: Al Jazeera