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In London, PM Modi was all business

Published : Nov 29, 2015, 11:21 pm IST
Updated : Nov 29, 2015, 11:21 pm IST

The UK-India Business Council feels India is destined to be the powerhouse of the world economy. The PM’s visit will raise India-UK relations a few notches and result in higher investment from the UK.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets his British counterpart, David Cameron, before addressing Indian community at Wembley. - PTI
 Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets his British counterpart, David Cameron, before addressing Indian community at Wembley. - PTI

The UK-India Business Council feels India is destined to be the powerhouse of the world economy. The PM’s visit will raise India-UK relations a few notches and result in higher investment from the UK.

No matter how vociferously his detractors castigate him for globetrotting and spending crores of Indian taxpayers’ money and producing a big zero, the fact remains that no Indian Prime Minister has ever created the kind of buzz, enthusiasm and excitement among the Indian diaspora as does Narendra Modi.

During his recent visit to the UK, the Indian community’s reception for Mr Modi in Wembley stadium on November 13 — three times bigger than the reception in Madison Square Garden in New York last year and accompanied with colourful pageantry, sound, song and dance and din — resembled a carnival. He uses the community receptions befitting a rock star as a powerful tool to achieve three goals: enhance his larger-than-life persona as a world leader, strengthen his hold on the Indian diaspora and use his immense popularity to nudge the host government to have closer relations with India. No wonder it was the British Prime Minister who introduced him to the audience rather than the MC.

Addressing a 60,000-strong crowd in Hindi, Mr Modi spoke at length about India’s cultural diversity, religious tolerance and pluralism and sufism’s contribution towards communal harmony. One wishes he had made these remarks in India; they would have spared him all the negative comments about his stoic silence.

Criticism of his foreign visits by the Opposition parties isn’t fair. In today’s highly competitive and globalised world, a leader has to interface, connect and hardsell one’s country, especially if one wishes to attract foreign investment. Exchanging views with friendly countries to address bilateral, regional and global political, economic, security and geo-strategic issues are indispensable.

Like on other trips, Mr Modi can claim several firsts on this one too: greeted with an RAF flypast without the British colours, stayed at Chequers and lunch with the Queen.

Mr Modi did some hardsell at the India-UK CEO Forum projecting India as an attractive investment destination stressing her strength: 3Ds, youth and innovative talent; cited the example of Imran in Rajasthan who has created 35 mobile apps. Addressing the wider global business community at the historic Guildhall, he asserted, “We are consistently and ceaselessly working to integrate our economy with the world,” and promised a stable and transparent decision-making process. His assurance that “retrospective tax” was a thing of the past would have been music to the ears of prospective investors.

Like a CEO, he stressed that India and the UK were economically made for each other and investment in India would be a win-win situation for both. The CEO Forum has identified six areas for cooperation: smart cities and digital economy, healthcare, education and skills, engineering, defence and security and financial and professional services. On his part, British PM David Cameron repeatedly underlined that the UK wants to be India’s “Partner No. 1” and help fulfil Mr Modi’s vision for transforming India. Business deals worth £9 billion (£2.9 billion by OPG Power Venture and £2 billion by Light source for solar power and £1.3 billion by Vodafone for digital and Make in India), civil nuclear deal, collaboration on energy and climate change and Masala Bonds (quasi-sovereign rupee bonds) for infrastructure and railways worth $1 billion and bonds announced by Bharti Airtel, HDFC and Yes Banks are some of the concrete takeaways. George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, felt that these bonds “will put Britain’s financial market at the very heart of funding of India’s rapidly growing economy”. Cooperation on technology and manufacturing, cyber security, counter-terrorism, maritime security and joint military exercises are welcome but the deal for the sale of 20 Hawk trainer aircraft remained elusive.

Addressing the British parliamentarians in the Royal Gallery of Parliament, Mr Modi made a passionate plea for fighting global terrorism repeating his demand for a comprehensive UN convention on terrorism, especially defining terrorism. Emphasising the need of environmental protection, he explained how seriously his government was encouraging clean and green energy and increasing the share of renewable energy in country’s basket of energy sources. But in view of the climate change summit in Paris, he didn’t make any public commitment about India capping carbon emissions.

The comprehensive joint statement stresses long-term strategic partnership and covers preservation of environment, sustainable development, Commonwealth, UN reforms, rule-based multi-lateral trading system, cooperation in third world countries, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Nepal and India-UK Partnership Fund for financing projects in India.

Learning from the criticism he faced during the third India-Africa Forum Summit for omitting reference to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, besides Mahatma Gandhi, Mr Modi especially referred to Pandit Nehru’s efforts at nurturing India-UK relations.

Mr Modi has developed his own formula for striking a personal rapport with his counterparts. Though the PM didn’t address Mr Cameron by his first name, their body language said it all — they seemed comfortable with each other; Mr Cameron removed all stops to please the Indian PM and accompanied him at several functions.

The British media’s coverage was a mixed fare: besides the blunt question at the joint press conference, India-born sculptor Anish Kapoor called him ”Hindu Taliban” in his article in the Guardian. The Independent referred to the violence in Gujarat in 2002. Though Rupert Murdoch hailed Mr Modi in New York as the greatest Indian since independence, his Times of London called him ”egregious”. But Indian-origin Labour politician Keith Vaz hailed Mr Modi’s visit as historic and termed his Wembley performance the biggest grassroots diplomacy. The conservative Daily Telegraph editorial said,” Narendra Modi’s India is a country we can do business with.”

The UK-India Business Council feels India is destined to be the powerhouse of the world economy. Mr Modi’s visit will raise India-UK relations a few notches and result in higher investment from the UK.

The writer is a former ambassador