Bruised by a crushing defeat in the Assembly elections in Bihar, and facing a flood of protests by Indian writers, artists and scientists, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi might have hoped that a visit to Britain would help him wrest back the narrative. But some 3,000 protesters made sure that the questions he faced back home in India followed him to the UK.
As he entered the UK Parliament, he was greeted with slogans of "Modi Modi you can't hide, you committed genocide" (a reference to the 2,000 Muslims killed in a pogrom in Gujarat when Modi was Chief Minister, in which cases against Modi are still pending in Indian courts); and "Modi Fascist Hindu Right! How many kids did you kill last night?"
A wide range of groups had joined the protests – including the biggest Dalit organisation in the UK, Castewatch, and several human rights, women's and student groups, as well as community organizations and groups of all faiths. The protest had been called by a coalition of organizations including South Asia Solidarity Group and the Southall Black Sisters, under the banner of the Awaaz Network.
Apart from the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, they also raised the issues of recent instances of Hindus lynching Muslim men on the pretext that the latter had 'eaten beef'; murders of writers and rationalists by Hindu majoritarian outfits; the burning alive of Dalit children; and the shocking rationalizations of such killings by Ministers in the Modi Cabinet and other prominent leaders of Modi's party the BJP and the RSS – the Hindu majoritarian outfit of which Modi also is a member.
The protesters also reminded Modi that he and his lieutenant Amit Shah had led the hate-speech from the front. In the Bihar elections, they had done their best to appeal to Hindus to vote for the BJP against Muslims whom both Modi and Shah stigmatized as those who eat beef, sympathise with Pakistan, and seek to steal affirmative action that only Hindus ought rightfully to claim.
It is to Bihar's credit that it rebuffed this divisive rhetoric soundly. After Bihar, it was the turn of Indians in the UK to say 'Modi Not Welcome.' The protests had their impact. Journalists questioned Modi about growing "intolerance" in India and asked him what he had to say about the protests outside Parliament.
Modi chose not to answer the direct question about the protesters – much as he has chosen to ignore the protesting voices in India while his ministers and other leaders have accused the dissenters of "ideological intolerance" and "ideological terrorism."
The land of Buddha and Gandhi
Modi, answering the question on intolerance, declared that "India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi", and cited the Indian Constitution and rule of law that would not spare anyone who perpetrated an act of "intolerance." The problem is that this bland answer is belied by the facts.
In the first place, lynching of Muslim men, assassinations of writers and activists, are not merely acts of "intolerance." Many citizens protesting hate-speech have received death threats or threats of acid attacks, and it has become downright commonplace for such to be told by members of Modi's Cabinet and party to "Go to Pakistan."
Dalits in India (a significant section of whom historically converted to Buddhism as a conscious rejection of the Hindu faith) are routinely coerced by RSS outfits to "come home" to Hindusim, even as a Modi minister compared Dalit children being burnt alive to "people throwing stones at a dog."
Women's groups protested Modi in a big way, reminding him of the rapes of Muslim women committed by members of his organization in Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar. They also reminded him that his supporters, raising the bogus of 'love jihad' allegations about Muslim men, have unleashed shocking violence against Indian women to separate them forcibly from inter-faith lovers or husbands.
A recent sting operation caught one BJP leader explaining how they persuade voters that "our country is in danger. We have to bring Modi ji. ...These Muslim men are snatching and stealing our girls from us, in the name of love jihad. ... Cows are getting slaughtered too!" The same leader admits to brutalising Hindu girls to 'persuade' them to part with Muslim lovers: "If she doesn't listen to us, we hit her. We get her beaten up. We misbehave, beat her with a wooden board. Are we wrong to do so?"
The British corporates wooed by Modi are the new East India Companies of today – and Modi is offering them cheap land and labour to plunder. Ironically, Priya Pillai, the Greenpeace activist working with indigenous Adivasi groups in India resisting a land grab by British company Essar, was branded 'anti-Indian' and put on a no-fly list by the Modi government for seeking to fly to London to meet British MPs.
Following the blistering Bihar rout, Modi has opened up India further to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – in the process doing a U-turn on his own stated positions before he became prime minister. For instance, when he claimed to support small Indian retailers against FDI. Moreover, Modi's planned deals on military aviation with UK companies will, to quote a statement issued by one of the protesting organizations, "facilitate state terror against India's own people in regions such as Chattisgarh, Manipur and Kashmir."
The Wembley-style orchestrated extravaganzas that Modi has addressed abroad are used quite openly to claim legitimacy both for his disastrous pro-corporate policies (such as forced land acquisition and weakening of labour laws) and his divisive "Hindutva" supremacist politics. This is why it is so important that so many Indians in the UK came together to say "Not in Our Name" to the agenda that Modi represents.