Three years after the British government reversed its position on a decade-long boycott of Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister arrived in London on Thursday for a three-day visit that is expected to boost relations in defence, security and trade.
This is the first visit by an Indian prime minister to the UK since 2006, while British PM David Cameron has visited India thrice since 2010.
“Reached London. India-UK ties will receive a great impetus. Will attend a wide range of programmes in UK,” Modi tweeted, shortly after his aircraft landed at Heathrow airport.
Modi was received by two British ministers: Minister for Foreign Office Hugo Swire and Minister in Department of Work and Pensions Priti Patel. Also in the line-up to welcome Modi were Indian High Commissioner Ranjan Mathai and British High Commissioner to India James Bevan. It was Bevan who had ended the UK government’s boycott of Modi, following the 2002 riots, by meeting the then Gujarat chief minister in Gandhinagar on October 22, 2012.
On Thursday, shortly after Modi reached the Taj hotel, next to Buckingham Palace, he walked out to meet around 20 supporters standing on the pavement, holding placards that said “Modi welcome to UK”.
One of them was Kaushal Patel, a 23-year-old manager with Pizza Hut, who said he was excited to see the PM walk up. “Hum to Modiji se milne aaye the… the mission is accomplished,” he said, wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Modi Express” and the Make-in-India logo on it.
Modi’s visit comes in the backdrop of the BJP’s debacle in the Bihar elections, and is being keenly watched for the political tone of his speeches.
Braving intermittent rain in London on Thursday afternoon, some protesters had gathered outside 10, Downing Street and other sites on Modi’s itinerary to protest a range of issues: Gujarat riots, censorship of Leslee Udwin’s film on the Delhi gangrape of December 2012, environment concerns and Sikh grievances.
Writing about the visit, the British media has focussed on bilateral trade opportunities, apart from the protests.
Financial Times said the highlight of the trip was the rally at Wembley Stadium on Friday. The Times said Cameron was hoping to use the visit to reboot Britain’s economic relationship.