PM Modi’s UK visit: London to see protests and counter-protests

If Narendra Modi felt relieved about escaping from the prevalent heat of Indian politics, he was mistaken. For he will be exposed to some unfriendly music on the streets of London on Wednesday

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Ashis Ray

If Narendra Modi felt relieved about escaping from the prevalent heat of Indian politics —"Go Back Modi" signs in Chennai, rapes and murders in Kathua, Unnao and Surat and cash running out at ATMs—he was mistaken. For he will be exposed to some unfriendly music on the streets of London on Wednesday. Permission has been granted by the city’s Metropolitan Police force, better known as Scotland Yard—as is customary in Britain—to various discontented groups to protest for up to three hours from midday within earshot of Modi’s meetings with the British leadership. Thousands of protestors could, in fact, mushroom for the purpose.

Indeed, Modi will not enter Downing Street—where the office and residence of the British Prime Minister Theresa May is located —through its front gate. He will be surreptitiously smuggled in through an alternative internal route to bypass the demonstrations that are slated to take place against him.

Indian women, students, Dalits and Christians will bolster the protests. South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG), a left-wing organisation, will also agitate. These would be embarrassing for India, because the immediate trigger for their action is the apparent protection that was sought to be given to the suspected rapists and murders in Kathua and Unnano, who either owe allegiance to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party or is a BJP lawmaker, and alleged ill-treatment of socially underprivileged sections and minorities in India.

“We will meet to publicly express our pain, sorrow and shock and most of all condemn the raping of our little daughters in India,” the otherwise pro-India women declared. The SASG described Modi as an “avowed fascist and admirer of (Adolf) Hitler”. It accused him of “overseeing genocidal attacks and mob lynching against religious minorities”. No visiting Indian politician has ever been accused of such serious omissions and commissions on British soil.

The protests would be embarrassing for India, because the immediate trigger for their action is the apparent protection that was sought to be given to the suspected rapists and murders in Kathua and Unnano, who either owe allegiance to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party or is a BJP lawmaker, and alleged ill-treatment of socially underprivileged sections and minorities in India

Then, there will be the usual suspects—elements inimical to India—who will stage rallies alongside the genuinely aggrieved demonstrators. Farooq Haider, the so-called prime minister of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, has flown to London and is reported to be preparing to lead an anti-India rally. Haider was quoted by Geo News as saying he was in London to “show solidarity” with people in Indian-controlled Kashmir. He said he was going to confront Modi on what he called “atrocities against Kashmiris under his watch”. Khalistani separatists belonging to Babbar Khalsa—one of whose leaders is said to be in Pakistan—are expected to join hands with the Kashmiris to ventilate their anti-India venom. Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Mirpur-born British peer who is known to be close to the Pakistani establishment, has been proudly proclaiming on social media that he is involved in organising the combined front.

Not that Rawalpindi needs an excuse, but the acute failure of Modi’s Kashmir policy has given Pakistan a stick to beat India with. Considering the way the former prime minister and Muslim League president Nawaz Sharif has been unceremoniously side-lined for his lack of sufficient hostility towards India in the eyes of the Pakistani army, politicians in Pakistan—previously inclined towards talks with India—have switched to toeing the hard-line of the military. The shrillest of sounds have emanated from Bilawal Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party; while Imran Khan, who spearheads the Justice Party and is fancying himself as the next prime minister with the aid of the army, gave a notably hawkish interview to Russia Today on Monday night.

British police will, of course, endeavour to ensure Haider and company come nowhere close to Modi as the latter is whisked in and out of Downing Street, perhaps even at a time when the demonstrations either haven’t started or have finished. But the Indian High Commission in London and Modi’s Special Protection Group have unmistakably been flagging their concerns about the protests. It was disclosed at a briefing by the mission that it had gone to the extent of conveying to British authorities they should ensure “no bomb” is thrown at or in the path of Modi.

Throughout his three-visit to the British capital, Modi will, in fact, travel in a bullet-proof limousine; whereas most if not all other heads of government attending the Commonwealth summit on Thursday and Friday will be transported from venue to venue on coaches in a community spirit. This suggests the threat perception regarding Modi was not to be taken lightly.

Counter-protests by Modi fans

The UK-based Overseas Friends of BJP, which is a front organisation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have, however, been working around the clock to mount counter demonstrations against what they maintained are “anti-India forces”.

In a propaganda war, both sides will deploy double-decker buses and vans with electronic screens in the Whitehall and Westminster areas—the government and parliamentary districts of London—to publicise their respective provocative messages. In this respect, activists loyal to India were first off the block with a floodlight message projected on the exterior walls of the British Houses of Parliament, demanding Pakistan be questioned on crimes against humanity in Balochistan.

London-based Ashish Ray, former head of CNN in India, is the longest serving Indian foreign correspondent

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