It took a trip all the way to London for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to finally set the record straight on his government’s stance on the debate over increasing intolerance in India.
Whatever it may be, the PM made front-page headlines with his UK visit, as he does whenever he travels abroad. Except this time, it was not for the “rockstar reception” he usually receives but for his commitment to the values of Buddha and Gandhi, and the Indian Constitution.
While Indian newspapers chose to focus on Modi’s commitment to tolerance, in the UK, the focus was on Modi’s controversial past as the chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 riots.
Nearly every report in the British press made a mention of the Gujarat riots as well as the current unrest among writers, artistes and filmmakers on issues of freedom of speech and expression. The Modi government’s crackdown on non-government organisations also found space in many reports.
Notably, some reports adopted a tone of disdain towards UK Prime Minster David Cameron for ignoring human rights issues for the sake of business. Modi and Cameron are set to sign deals worth 9 billion Pounds.
Here’s what some of the British dailies talked about in today’s papers.
The Daily Telegraph
The newspaper carried a front-page picture of Modi with the header: “All is forgiven Mr Modi”. The caption stated that Britain “rolled out the red carpet” to welcome the PM who was once shunned in the country for “his slow response to rioting that left 1,000 Muslims dead in Gujarat”.
The complete article, on page 6, is titled “Pomp and ceremony for an ex-pariah”. It stated in the lead paragraph that Modi’s “transformation from persona non grata to guest of honour was complete yesterday”. The piece detailed the welcome ceremony for Modi, remarking that, “Other relatively new prime ministers might have been intimidated by such a show of force.”
An earlier paragraph made a snide reference to Modi’s humble origins.
Another piece headlined “Small earthquake in London, many ears split” stated there was a “slight awkwardness” in Modi and Cameron’s relationship but “they spoke with all the earnestness of a young couple thinking of moving in together”.
The paper’s front page carried no report on Modi’s visit, dedicating two inside pages to it. It carried one half-page report on Page 8 with the headline: “High security and Cameron’s praise for former persona non grata”. The report focused on Britain’s “policy of non-engagement with Modi till 2010”. Anish Kapoor’s now viral piece was carried along with the report as inset. Kapoor’s piece was headlined “Hindu Taliban” in which he stated that Modi “has used the very economic agenda that causes Britain to turn a blind eye to his regime’s human rights abuses to muzzle dissent within India”.
The Guardian carried another half-page report on Page 9 focussing on the anti-Modi protests at 10 Downing Street. The piece described Modi as a “Hindu nationalist” and concluded by stating that he can hope to receive a “warmer welcome when 60,000 members of the Indian diaspora will pack into Wembley stadium”.
Guardian also carried a report by documentary filmmaker Leslee Udwin. Her film, India’s Daughter, was banned this year and Udwin says she will be protesting against Modi this evening since the ban on her film persists. “…where is Prime Minister Modi on all of this? We do not know, for he remains silent. I have pleaded with him a number of times by addressing him on TV, and sending him letters, to consider that the film merely tells the truth,” she wrote. She said Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will call on Cameron to get Modi to lift the ban.
The front page carried a picture of Modi and Cameron with the caption highlighting that the former was given a guard of honour by the Scots Guards, even as “protestors gathered nearby in Whitehall”.
The paper carried a piece on its Opinion page with the headline: “Hold your nose and shake Modi by the hand”. The kicker stated: “The egregious PM is not a man who shares our values but Britain’s relationship with India is bigger than one man”. It goes on to note that the “Modi’s been on better behaviour since he became prime minister”.
The news report in the paper headlined “Cameron Buys Into Modi Mania” starts off by noting that “Britain will continue to pursue stronger ties with India despite Narendra Modi’s record on human rights…”. The report goes on to talk about the 9 billion Pounds worth of deals between the two countries that will be unveiled during Modi’s three-day visit.
The Financial Times
The front page of the pink daily carried a small brief with the headline: “Cameron eyes 9 billion pounds deal for Modi’s visit”. The complete report was on Page 3. The report highlighted the fact that Modi’s visit comes at a time when British companies are frustrated because they have failed to make headway in Indian markets. It also mentioned that Modi’s visit has generated “far less official hype than the state visit by Xi Jinping, Chinese President, last month”. It concluded by stating that Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is set to meet Modi and raise human rights issues with him, including hostile treatment of NGOs like Greenpeace.
The Daily Mail
No front-page pictures or reports again but the paper carried two reports. One focussed on the red carpet welcome Modi received. “Earlier in the day, Mr Modi was given the rare privilege of addressing the British Houses of Parliament,” the report stated.
It also carried a primer on Modi headlined: “The Teaboy Who Rose To Lead World’s Biggest Democracy”. “He left home at 17, rejecting his arranged marriage and taking a long-distance degree in political science from Delhi University,” it said, adding that the 2014 win “completed his progression from rags to richly-crafted signature tunic suits, worn in his meeting with President Barack Obama, which carry Mr Modi’s name in the pinstripes.”
Other news outlets like CNN focussed on protests against Modi, while The Independent carried a report with statements from London Mayoral candidate George Galloway. “He’s the Prime Minister of a great country but he’s not a great Prime Minister.” Focussing on the no-engagement policy with regard to Modi, another report in The Independent stated that “Cameron was keen to forget past differences with the man whose Bharatiya Janata Party won a sensational election victory in May last year”.
And this cartoon in The Independent put the “blood-on-his-hands” narrative right at the forefront.
This is perhaps the first time that Modi’s visit aboard has generate a mixed bag of reports – with equal focus on protests against Modi and the controversies surrounding him and his government. While the British press took the lead in asking some tough questions to Modi, Indian newspapers, too, have reported on the anti-Modi protests, unlike the time he went to the US in September last year. Clearly the honeymoon is over.