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Modi wave crosses English Channel

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 - 7:00am IST | Place: London | Agency: dna

  • British MP Bob Blackman plays drums to celebrate BJP victory at a gathering of NRI supporters in London

British politicians from the Left and the Right have in the past couple of days fallen over each other to congratulate Narendra Modi on his electoral victory in India.

British prime minister David Cameron immediately congratulated him on the phone and wasted no time to invite him to come to the UK.

"Mr Modi said he would be delighted to accept the prime minister's invitation to visit the UK. Both leaders agreed on the importance of the UK-India relationship and agreed to work together to strengthen it in the months ahead," a 10 Downing Street spokesperson said.

While the prime minister restricted it to a phone call, some of his parliamentary colleagues were beating the drum for Modi — quite literally.

Wearing a saffron turban, MP Bob Blackman started playing the drum spontaneously to celebrate the BJP victory at a gathering of NRI supporters.

Over 200 BJP supporters turned up in a London suburb. It is often called 'the Ahmedabad of London' owing to the large Gujarati population living there. Many of Modi's supporters came out to sing, dance and eat some Gujarati food. "India will progress under Modi. I am so excited that I am contemplating a return to India after 40 years in this country," said a enthusiastic NRI supporter of Modi.

At another event, MP Bob Blackman, this time without his drum, said: "As I see it from the outside, all the people have gained from the economic prosperity in Guajrat. Not just a few. And everyone is benefitting and everyone wants to see the same thing happening across the whole of the country."

He also criticised the Labour Party, who froze relations with the Modi government in the wake of the Gujarat riots in 2002. It was under the current Conservative-led government that relations resumed. Last year MPs also invited Modi to the UK.

Not to be outdone, Labour Party politicians also went all out to show their solidarity with the BJP leader.

Ed Miliband, the leader of opposition in the UK extended his congratulations and said, "The Labour Party deeply values Britain's relationship with India. A Labour government under my leadership would seek to deepen and strengthen our relationship."

But the British prime minister's UK India diaspora champion Priti Patel's comments perhaps describe why Modi's victory captured the imagination of so many politicians.

"The ways in which Narendra Modi mobilised support and broke through voter apathy will be a lesson for politicians and political campaigners around the world. The number of first-time voters, new technology that helped communicate political messages, and a fresh vision for governance all played a significant role to shape the outcome of this historic general election."

Patel's party — the Conservatives came to power in an uneasy coalition with the Liberal Democrat party in 2010 because they didn't have the numbers to form a government with a full majority. In the 2015 general elections, the Conservative party hopes to form the government with a fully majority.

For British politicians, speaking about their support for Modi is something their Gujarati-speaking constituents have come to expect of them.

According to one estimate over 400,000 British Gujaratis live in and around London alone. Gujaratis make up a large section of the Indian immigrant population in Britain.

And that's why perhaps not only do MPs want Modi to come to London but Keith Vaz, another Labour party MP said: "I hope that the new Indian prime minister will work to engage with the large Indian diaspora we have here in the UK. My constituency has the largest Gujarati community in the United Kingdom and I hope that Modi will find time to visit Leicester on his next visit to this country."

So strong has been the NRI community's support for Modi that even Indian Muslim organisations have come out in support of him.

Traditional opponents of Modi who protested against him in the past are willing to start a new chapter. Munaf Zeena, the outgoing chair of the Council of Indian Muslims said: "The fight for justice and against injustice should take its own course but this should no longer mean that engagement is not possible with Narendra Modi."

He said that he is looking "at the bigger picture".

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