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Narendra Modi’s UK Visit: Major Takeaways

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The Pulse

Narendra Modi’s UK Visit: Major Takeaways

The Indian prime minister’s UK visit resulted in a range of agreements with David Cameron’s government.

Narendra Modi’s UK Visit: Major Takeaways
Credit: Flickr/ MEAPhotogallery

Fresh out of his party’s defeat in the Bihar elections — a result that may have shaken foreign investor faith in his government’s ability to pursue swift reform — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent the better part of this week in the United Kingdom for his first state visit there as India’s head of government. Modi and his counterpart, David Cameron, issued a joint statement on their “global partnership.” Additionally, Modi and Cameron issued a joint statement (PDF) outlining a range of agreements between the two countries, specifically on the issue of climate change. Modi also addressed the British parliament, becoming the first Indian head of government to do so.

The headlining deal of Modi’s state visit is an agreement on increasing bilateral cooperation on civil nuclear cooperation, finalizing a 2010 bilateral agreement. “The two prime ministers welcomed the successful conclusion of negotiations on a bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement providing a framework for further cooperation, and announced the signing of a MoU between the U.K. and the Indian Department for Atomic Energy to encourage joint training and experience sharing on Civil Nuclear with the Indian Global Center for Nuclear Energy Partnership,” Modi and Cameron noted in Thursday’s joint statement on energy and climate. “The conclusion of the civil nuclear agreement is a symbol of our mutual trust and our resolve to combat climate change,” Modi said.

The two leaders also emphasized their cooperation on climate change and energy issues. Both countries are expected to play a major role in the upcoming UN Conference on Climate Change talks in Paris. Recent public opinion data shows that global climate change is a major topic of concern in India.

Back in India, Cameron’s statement of support for India’s permanent membership bid at the UN Security Council received a great deal of attention. In line with previous Indian governments, Modi has emphasized India’s aspirations for a permanent seat at the UNSC. Most recently, on the sidelines of the 70th UN General Assembly, Modi lead a meeting of the G4 — a geopolitical grouping comprising UNSC permanent seat aspirants, including Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan.

Overall, on the economic side of the visit, the two prime ministers agreed to around $13.7 billion in deals. Modi emphasized India’s outsized economic stake in the United Kingdom. He noted that India invests more in the U.K. than in the rest of the European Union. According to the Cameron government, “In 2014-15 India emerged as Britain’s third biggest job creator, creating 7,730 new jobs, with investments from India increasing by 65 percent.” Cameron’s office additionally highlighted that among G20 members, the U.K. is the largest investor in India.

The economic deals during the visit concerned India’s creative and retail sectors, logistics, financial services, energy, information technology and cyber, healthcare, and education. Both Cameron and Modi touted the extensive economic agenda of the state visit. “The agreements between India and U.K. strengthen the U.K.’s position in sectors including insurance services, finance, healthcare and energy,” Cameron’s office noted in a statement. Modi and Cameron said that Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his counterpart, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, will work to expand cooperation at the next U.K.-India Economic and Financial Dialogue.

As he is known to do on his trips abroad, Modi met with a group of private sector leaders and touted investment opportunities in India. Ahead of his trip to the U.K., Modi’s government unveiled a major expansion of reforms to FDI in a range of sectors. In the U.K., Modi unveiled a new mechanism for “fact track” investment access for U.K. individuals and firms.

On the security front, Cameron and Modi discussed a range of regional and global issues. They expressed their “shared commitment and support” for a “stable, secure and successful future for a sovereign, democratic and united Afghanistan.” They “stressed the need for inclusive political settlements in Syria and Iraq.” Additionally, Modi and Cameron “reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to justice.” The Modi-Cameron joint statement also discusses the need for an inclusive constitution in Nepal, international support for the Iran nuclear deal, and “full implementation of the Minsk measures by all parties” with regard to the Ukraine crisis.

Interestingly, unlike recent Indian joint statements with the United States, the Philippines, and Vietnam, and unlike the most recent G7 statement, which Cameron signed on to, the India-U.K. joint statement makes no reference to freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.

On defense, reports ahead of Modi’s visit suggested that he was looking to close a deal for the purchase of 20 Hawk Mk132 training aircraft  from the U.K.’s BAE Systems. The deal was not announced publicly during Modi’s visit. Ahead of the visit, Reuters suggested that the deal would be valued at up to $450 million. India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited signed a memorandum of understanding with BAE in May on upgrades for India’s existing Hawk Mk132 systems.

Modi lunched with Queen Elizabeth II on Friday. Reports note that he arrived for his appointment at Buckingham Palace in a Jaguar — the legendary U.K. automobile brand is now owned by India’s Tata conglomerate.

On Friday evening, Modi and Cameron took the stage at London’s famous Wembley Stadium. The crowd at Wembley to greet the prime minister was reportedly three times as large as the one he received in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. As was the case in New York in September 2014, Modi’s ability to galvanize the Indian diaspora abroad and draw crowds befitting a rock star in major foreign cities has been a focal point of much of the Indian and British commentary surrounding his trip to London. In London, like in New York, Modi’s speech at Wembley was accompanied by Indian cultural programming, including song and dance.

At a press briefing in London, beside Cameron, Modi spoke directly about concerns that “growing intolerance” in India has grown under his government. Seeking to put concerns about these issues to rest, Modi declared that “India will not tolerate intolerance. India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. We are not an intolerant society.” Modi added that “India is a vibrant democracy and we are committed to protect the rights granted to every citizen under the country’s constitution.”

In the weeks leading up to his U.K. state visit, the Indian media has been rife with commentary on the extent to which religion-based violence and intolerance has grown in the first 18 months of Narendra Modi’s government. Modi leads the Bharatiya Janata Party, a party associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu organization.

Given the recent controversy, not all of the public reaction to Modi’s U..K visit was positive. Ahead of his arrival, protestors gathered on Downing Street, criticizing Modi’s record on human rights. Additionally, a group of Indian secular activists projected an image of Modi with Nazi imagery on the U.K.’s Houses of Parliament at Westminster.