Modi faces tough questions in London
Sample the first question hurled at Modi by BBC correspondent Justin Rowlatt: “India is becoming an increasingly intolerant place. Why?” Rowlatt did not ask whether India was becoming increasingly intolerant but he made a statement and then put a single-word question: “Why”
PM Modi must have been stunned by the sheer directness of the question. Actually it was more of a stun grenade than a question.
Here are the relevant excerpts of Modi's response in specific context of the question about intolerance. “India is the land of Buddha. India is the land of Gandhi. And so, it is in our culture and blood that we don’t accept anything against the basic values of society…Therefore, if any event takes places, wherever it may occur in India, whether it’s once or twice, in a country of 1.2 billion people, every incident that happens is a serious incident for us, and we do not tolerate such incidents of violence at all. We take strong actions and we will continue to take strong actions and legal actions against such incidents. India is a vibrant democracy which, on the basis of the constitution, protects every citizen, and the values of every citizen in accordance with our constitution, and we’re committed to that.”
It must be noted that he did not give details of “strong actions” taken by his government.
Shortly later, another British journalist Nicholas Watt from Guardian asked a question each from both the prime ministers. Both the questions were actually a frontal assault on Modi. To Cameron he asked: “How comfortable do you feel welcoming Prime Minister Modi to this country given that for the first two years of your premiership he was not permitted to visit this country because of his record as chief minister of Gujarat?”
Watt’s question to Modi was even sharper as he asked: “Prime Minister Modi, can I ask you: Tomorrow night you will obviously have a rapturous reception at Wembley Stadium. But there are a number of protesters out today who are saying—and I am wondering what you say to them—that given your record as chief minister of the state of Gujarat, you do not deserve the respect that would normally be accorded to the leader of the world’s largest democracy.”
Modi began answering the question that he wished to give an information to keep the record straight and then said thus: “I came in 2003 and had been warmly welcomed at that time as well. The UK has never stopped me from coming here. They have never banned me from coming here. Perhaps I could not come because of my own time constraints, so please do correct this wrong perception you may have.”
Again, here too Modi chose not to answer the more damning part of Watt’s question about the protests outside the British prime minister's office and what he had to say to them.
This was easily PM Modi's toughest press conference abroad and that too on Day One of his UK visit. This could have happened to him only on foreign soil because he has never held a formal no-holds-barred press conference, either as prime minister or during his almost 13 years’ stint as chief minister of Gujarat.
Modi has been to other Western nations like the US, France and Germany but the media there is not much bothered about India. The case of the US is even more interesting as there are more than 2.8 million Indians living in the US, constituting 0.9 percent of the total American population. But UK is much different because of historical links.
It will be interesting to see how Modi fares during the rest of his UK trip if he were to run into British media again. more