Even as British Prime Minister David Cameron thundered against the ISIS terrorists (aka takfiris, Da‘ish, or ISIL) that had caused mayhem, death, and destruction in Paris on November 13, he was happily consorting with another terrorist. This one came from India clad in tight pajamas and kurta: Narendra Modi. Setting protocol aside, Modi was feted to lunch with the Queen at Buckingham Palace on November 14. He had requested this although he is not the head of state, only the head of government in India, but when major deals are anticipated, protocol can be tossed out the window.
Politics makes for strange bedfellows. Modi was banned from entry into Britain for 10 years because he was implicated in crimes against humanity due to his involvement in the 2002 Gujarat massacre. From 2005 onwards, he was also banned from entering the US. As India’s prime minister, now he was welcomed and put up at Cameron’s country estate, the Chequers.
Did his crimes just wash away because he had become the prime minister of a country? Modi was even allowed to address the British Parliament, a rare event although his tortuous English had many parliamentarians straining to catch what he was saying through his thick Indian accent.
The Guardian newspaper was so appalled at Cameron’s groveling that it editorially excoriated the British prime minster. “As Narendra Modi and David Cameron leap from crag to crag of ever more outrageous flattery, one might wish that the affair could have been pitched on a somewhat lower level,” the British daily wrote on November 13. Its editorial writer was able to see through the self-serving statements to point out, “The mundane truth is that this trip is basically about seeking advantage in the day-to-day politics of both countries.”
In contrast to Cameron’s groveling, thousands of British citizens of Sikh and Kashmiri origins protested Modi’s visit. Led by Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first Muslim member of the British House of Lords and himself of Kashmiri origin, protesters condemned “Intolerant India” and Modi’s crimes against humanity. They had come up with catchy slogans. “Modi, Modi! Shame, shame” and “Modi, Modi! You can’t hide; you committed genocide,” referring to the February 2002 massacre of Muslims in Gujarat when Modi was the state chief minister. The crowd outside 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence, was so huge that Modi had to be taken through a different route to enter the building. The Hindu chauvinist tried to put up a brave face but his nervousness was clearly visible.
Cameron’s fawning over Modi was meant to curry favor with the Hindu zealot in hopes of winning some contracts. The Indian was not very forthcoming. In different times, Modi would have been described in much more derogatory terms for which the British have a knack. Didn’t Winston Churchill call Gandhi, the man with such strange habits as drinking urine and other “exotic” practices that only the Hindus can think of, the “naked fakir”? Churchill was a racist and a bigot; Cameron is no less bigoted but for commercial interests, he is prepared to grease up to a particularly nasty creature.
To be fair to Cameron, he has been consistent. Barely a week before Modi descended on London, Cameron had welcomed another mass murderer, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt to Downing Street. El-Sisi had gained notoriety by murdering thousands of innocent Muslims in Cairo. Before perpetrating the bloodbath, he had overthrown the first-ever democratically elected government in Egypt’s history headed by Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Western rulers love dictators, especially those with great amount of blood of the Muslims on their hands. The war criminal Benjamin Netanyahu was also welcomed to Downing Street a few weeks prior to El-Sisi’s arrival.
Modi’s appearance at a joint press conference with Cameron proved even more embarrassing for him after the loud if non-violent protests. Used only to sycophancy at home, a practice he has enforced since becoming prime minister, Modi was subjected to intense grilling by the British media; he withered under their relentless barrage. Even the sari brigade he had brought with him to charm British politicians could not save his thick skin. The dye had already been cast before he left India. More than 50 Indian writers, academics and activists had returned their awards in protest over the atmosphere of intolerance created by Modi and his henchmen since his ascension to power in India.
Indian writers lashed out at the treatment meted out to Modi by the British media. Pawan Khera, writing in the Daily-O (November 14), an Indian web portal, complained about Modi’s “awkward body language.” He wrote, “The shame India experienced in London is thanks to his [Modi’s] inexplicable silence back home on ticklish issues and for the mysterious support he gets from the Indian media.” Another UK-based Indian writer, Nirpal Dhaliwal, a Sikh no less, was more profuse in his praise. “I wept watching Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address to the British parliament. I found his desi accent difficult to follow, but cried nonetheless.”
What did he find in Modi’s address so moving to make him weep when he did not understand what the mass murderer was saying? Further, he forgot that Hindu fascists are as intolerant of Sikhs as they are of Muslims in India. The Hindutva brigade that has received massive boost under Modi wants all non-Hindus either to convert to Hinduism insisting they were originally all Hindus, or they must leave India. And they have not shied away from using terror tactics to advance their agenda.
Dhaliwal also took the British left to task for excoriating Modi, the Guardian epitomizing the left, in his view. He did not spare Indian writers either; his wrath was directed at those Indian writers — Arundathi Roy and Pankaj Mishra, for instance — who have courageously exposed the wrongdoings of successive Indian governments against minorities whether Muslim, Sikh, Dalits or Christians.
Khera was a little more honest. “Those cringing over so-called embarrassing questions by foreign media are responsible for the humiliation every single Indian experienced watching a nervous prime minister unable to handle difficult questions. If they had done their jobs well, we wouldn’t have had to see our prime minister getting embarrassed on foreign soil. Indian media should have forced the prime minister to publicly and unequivocally condemn the atmosphere of intolerance, some members of his party sought to create.” He went on, “Opinions were divided over ‘the way our prime minister was treated’ by those heartless journalists of the British press. Patriotism was the obvious recourse for those who felt outraged at the fact that journalists in UK were just doing their job.”
Modi is a publicity hound. He had timed his visit to coincide with Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. For this, the Wembley stadium was booked and tickets sold in advance to fawning members of the Indian diaspora. The entire stadium was lit with colorful lights as were buildings near Downing Street. Back home, this was projected as the British prime minister’s special welcome for Modi to “honor” him. Such shamelessness would be hard to find anywhere else but we are talking about a mass murderer masquerading as a world leader.
In addition to seeking trade deals, Cameron also had his eye on another sector: the votes of British subjects from India. These people have traditionally voted Labor. With a growing Indian class of merchants and industrialists, Cameron hoped to attract some of these votes away from Labor.
Far from delivering votes, Modi administers the kiss of death. Consider this: he visited Australia and Tony Abbott was booted out as prime minister. Earlier this year, Modi was in Canada and Prime Minister Stephen Harper accompanied him for all three days as if glued to the Hindu chauvinist. Harper had hoped that by greasing up to Modi, the Indian diaspora would vote for him in the October 19 elections. He was booted out of office suffering a crushing defeat at the hands of the youthful Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party.
Cameron should be careful before banking on Modi’s appeal for votes. Modi takes his bad karma wherever he goes.