Modi in London: PM uses Bharat Ki Baat for Lingayat outreach; 10 points

Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with the Indian diaspora in his ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ programme at Westminster’s central hall in London on Wednesday. Addressing the gathered audience, Modi said that he was the servant of 1.25 billion Indians and that he did not wish to write his name in the history books. Modi, who is on a three-day visit to the United Kingdom (UK), spoke on topics as diverse as crimes against women and children in India, his government’s performance and programmes, and India’s foreign policy, especially with regard to countering terrorism and dealing with Pakistan. During the programme, Modi also spoke of the recent spate of rape cases in the country, including the Kathua rape and murder case and the Unnao rape case involving an MLA from his party.

The surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army in the aftermath of the Uri attack and the Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission (NHPM), dubbed as ‘Modicare’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were also some topics of discussion during Modi’s interaction. The prime minister also spoke about his personal outlook regarding serving the country and the role of criticism of the government in a democracy.

The reverberations of the Karnataka Assembly election 2018 were also heard in London during Modi’s ‘Bharat Ki Baat’ programme. The prime minister highlighted the contribution of 12th-century Lingayat philosopher Basaveshwara at the event in London in an outreach to the important political group, the Lingayats, in the state. Modi’s outreach comes against the backdrop of the Siddaramaiah government’s proposal to consider Lingayats as a separate religion.

‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ was an interaction with the Indian diaspora organised by the Europe India Forum. Around 2,000 people of Indian origin attended the event at the Central Hall Westminster, where Prasoon Joshi, Indian lyricist, screenwriter, poet and marketer, acted as the moderator.

After the programme, Modi attended the dinner hosted by British Prime Minister Theresa May for Commonwealth leaders. May on Wednesday hosted a black-tie dinner for the leaders of 53 Commonwealth Nations. Earlier in the day, Modi and May held bilateral talks in which they discussed economic offenders, including Vijay Mallya, and the much-talked ex-Russian spy Sergei Skripal, who was the target of an alleged Russian plot to assassinate him using a nerve agent. Further, India and the UK on Wednesday committed themselves to a stronger bilateral trade relationship after Brexit. May, for her part, expressed the UK’s keenness to begin negotiations on the India-UK free trade agreement (FTA).

Prime Minister Modi was earlier honoured in a private audience with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, an event which has been organised previously for only three nations.

Here are the top 10 developments around Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to London, ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ programme, and his itinerary for today:

1) ‘I am servant of 1.25 billion Indians’, says Modi: At ‘Bharat Ki Baat’, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that his life at the railway station was about his personal struggles and the person in the Royal Palace was the ‘sevak’ (servant) of 1.25 billion Indians. “The person in the railway station was Narendra Modi. The person in the Royal Palace in London is the Sevak of 125 crore (1.25 billion) Indians,” said Modi.

“My life at the railway station taught me so much. It was about my personal struggles. When you said Royal Palace, it is not about me but about the 125 crore (1.25 billion) people of India,” he said, adding, “The railway station is a special part of my life as it made me go through the struggles of life from being a common man to the Prime Minister of India.”

“People are equivalent to Gods in a democracy and if they wish even a tea-seller can become their representative and shake hands at the Royal Palace,” said Modi.

‘I know what it is to be poor’, says Modi: Ever the politician, Modi also took veiled potshots at Congress President Rahul Gandhi. “I do not need to read books to understand poverty. I have lived in poverty, I know what it is to be poor and belong to the backward sections of society. I want to work for the poor, the marginalised and the downtrodden,” he said.

He also said that he was not born with an aim to be in the history books and that the 1.25 billion people of India were his family. “I am like any common citizen,” he added.

Read our previous coverage on PM Modi’s UK visit and meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May: ALSO READ: Modi in London: ‘Bharat ki Baat’ event, India-UK enhance ties; highlights
2) PM Modi to attend 2018 CHOGM summit today: Prime Minister Modi will attend the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on Thursday at the Buckingham Palace. Modi will begin his day by visiting the International Media Centre at Marlborough House.

The Commonwealth Summit will be formally opened by Queen Elizabeth at 10 am (local time), followed by an official welcome of the leaders of the 53 Commonwealth nations by Prime Minister Theresa May and Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. The first one-hour Executive Session will be held at the Lancaster House at 12:15 pm (Local time), followed by the second executive session at 2:30 pm (local time).

On the sidelines of the executive sessions, various bilateral meetings will also be held among the assembled leaders.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, and Saint Lucia Prime Minister Honourable Allen Chastanet are scheduled to hold a meeting. Further, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni will conduct a bilateral meeting.

Later, Gambia President Adama Barrow, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Keith Rowley, Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, Seychelles Prime Minister Danny Faure and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will have a meeting in the evening.

In the evening, Queen Elizabeth will host a dinner reception for all the Commonwealth leaders.

3) On Unnao and Kathua, Modi says don’t politicise rape cases: Amid nationwide outrage over the Kathua, Unnao, and other rape cases, Modi said that “rape is rape”, adding that such cases should not be politicised. During the ‘Bharat Ki Baat’ programme, Modi said, “We always ask our daughters about what they are doing, where they are going. We must ask our sons too. The person who is committing these crimes is also someone’s son.”

“I have never indulged in counting the number of rape incidents in this government and that government. Rape is rape, be it now or earlier. It is extremely sad. Don’t politicise rape incidents,” said the prime minister, adding, “The rape of a daughter is a matter of shame for the country.”

4) Modi says India conducts its foreign policy eye-to-eye: Modi on Wednesday said that India’s foreign policy is conducted meeting the other party eye-to-eye. He also said that New Delhi has emerged as the key voice for the Third World on the global platform. “Neither do we look at countries with raised eyes nor with lowered eyes,” Modi said in response to a question at ‘Bharat Ki Baat’. “Bharat aankhjhukaakar ya aankhuthaakarnahi, balkiaankhmilaakarbaatkarnemeinvishwaaskarta hai,” said Modi.

Explaining India’s foreign policy, Modi said he went to Palestine in February this year with confidence. The visit came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India in January this year. Modi visited Israel in July last year in what was the first ever prime ministerial visit from India to the West Asian nation. “Why did not any Indian Prime Minister go to Israel in 70 years?” Modi asked as Israel marked its 70th Independence Day on Wednesday. Modi’s standalone half-day visit to Ramallah signified New Delhi’s dehyphenation of Israel and Palestine.

“I went to Saudi Arabia… I also went to Iran,” Modi said. The Prime Minister visited oil-rich Saudi Arabia in April 2016 and then the Gulf kingdom’s rival Iran the very next month. Modi also referred to comments he heard about how he, a former state Chief Minister, could not handle India’s foreign policy.

5) At ‘Bharat ki Baat’, Modi warns Pakistan over exporting terror: Counter-terrorism and dealing with Islamabad’s support for terrorist organisations also came up during the event. In a veiled message to Pakistan during the ‘Bharat ki Baat’ programme, Modi said on Wednesday that antics of those exporting terror and trying to backstab India will not be tolerated, adding that they will be answered in the language they understand. He also said that Islamabad had been informed of the 2016 surgical strikes before they were announced to the media.

6) Modi says surgical strikes a reply to Pakistan in its own language: Referring to the Uri terrorist attack during the ‘Bharat ki Baat’ programme, Modi said: “We will not tolerate those who like to export terror and those who try to stab at the back. We know how to give back strong answers and in the language they understand.” Asking what appeared to be a rhetorical question, Modi said that when “some cowards come and kill our jawans”, did people want him “to stay quiet”. He added, “Shouldn’t they be replied in the same coin?”

Modi described the Indian Army’s surgical strike as “an answer to the exporters of terrorism”, which sent a message (to Pakistan) “that India has changed and their antics will never be tolerated”.

Modi said, “I am proud of my soldiers. The soldiers executed the surgical strike without making a single mistake and with 100 per cent perfection. And they returned before sunrise.”

7) Modi reveals Pakistani authorities didn’t want to pick up the phone after surgical strikes: Modi also said that he had directed the Army to announce the surgical strikes to the media after informing Pakistan. He revealed that Pakistani authorities were initially hesitant to take their calls meant to inform them of the strikes but came on line at around 12 noon the next day, after which the media was informed about the operation. “…And look at our good intention. I told the Army officer in-charge that before announcing the news in India, he should inform the Pakistan army first about the strike and they may remove the bodies if they want to,” he added.

8) Modi invokes the Mahatma, calls for mass movement aimed at developing India: Seen as having fought and won the 2014 elections on the plank of development, the Prime Minister explained his views on how to take India forward. He invoked Gandhi and called for a new mass movement, this time for development, along the lines of India’s struggle for independence. Modi said that a wrong tendency had developed over the years of people getting overly dependent on the government. “During the freedom struggle, Mahatma Gandhi did something very different. He turned the freedom struggle into a mass movement. He told every person that whatever you are doing will contribute to India’s freedom,” said Modi, adding, “Today, the need of the hour is to make development a mass movement.”

9) ‘Efforts of Basaveshwara to uphold values of democracy are inspiration for all’: The Karnataka Assembly polls 2018 also flavoured Modi’s interaction at the event. Modi on Wednesday highlighted the contribution of 12th-century Lingayat philosopher Basaveshwara at ‘Bharat Ki Baat’. He drew attention towards the constant efforts done by Basaveshwara to uphold the values of democracy and maintain unity in society. “His (Lord Basaveshwara) efforts for democracy, social consciousness and women’s empowerment are an inspiration for all of us,” Prime Minister Modi said.

Further, Modi said that Basaveshwara’s ideals motivate people across the world.

Before the event, Modi on Wednesday offered ‘pushpanjali’, or floral tributes, at the bust of Basaveshwara, or Basavanna, at 11.10 am local time, or 4.40pm IST. The Prime Minister had unveiled the bust of Basavanna on the banks of river Thames during his visit to the UK in 2015. Neeraj Patil, a former mayor of Lambeth, a London borough, and a community medical doctor, had worked to get the statue installed.

10) Modi, May discuss Mallya, India-UK trade partnership after Brexit: Prime Minister Modi held discussions with UK PM Theresa May in London on Wednesday morning. In the meeting, India and the United Kingdom committed themselves to a stronger bilateral trade relationship after Brexit. According to a press statement from the UK PM’s office, the two leaders “also discussed cooperation between the two countries on legal matters”. While there was no word from the Indian side on whether Modi raised the issue of extradition of Vijay Mallya and former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said “the issue of economic offenders was also raised”. However, Gokhale refused to elaborate further. He said that since the discussion tooke place as part of a prime ministerial visit, no documents on the subject were exchanged.

Further, May expressed the UK’s keenness to begin negotiations on the India-UK FTA. While Modi said the proposed FTA should be balanced and mutually beneficial, May updated Modi on the progress on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. The UK prime minister said that the “implementation period agreed in March gives Indian companies and investors the confidence that market access will continue on current terms until the end of 2020”. She also sought a deeper India-UK defence cooperation. India, for its part, wants the UK to be more accommodating about its concerns on work permits, visa-related issues, Indian students and the movement of Indian professionals in the UK.