by RITHIKA SIDDHARTHA
MODI REVEALS PRIDE IN HIS JOB AT LONDON EVENT
PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi said Indians command increased respect in today’s new world order as he noted that “there is renewed strength in the Indian passport”.
Addressing a 1,500-strong gathering in central London last Wednesday (18), Modi also set out his ambition to stay in office for a second term as India holds a general election next year. He said that it was only fair that the current (BJP-led) government is compared to the previous (Congress-led) coalition that enjoyed power for 10 years.
In a relaxed question and answer session at Central Hall Westminster, a stone’s throw away from the houses of British parliament, the prime minister also paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, whose statue stands in Parliament Square, just outside the venue.
Modi said he believed in a participative democracy and wanted every Indian to have a sense of belonging.
“It’s not about voters entering a five-year contract with the government that they elect, rather this is a partnership,” he said, quoting Gandhi’s Jan Andolan or movement of the common man, during India’s freedom struggle.
At a time when the gulf between the common man and the ruling authority was widening, Gandhi encouraged ordinary citizens to do their bit, however big or small, to bring about a change in society, Modi noted. He hoped to inspire a new generation of Indians to do the same, rather than rely on the government or bureaucrats to fix their problems.
Having arrived in London the previous night, Modi had a packed schedule last Wednesday. His day began with a breakfast meeting with British prime minister Theresa May at Downing Street, followed by a visit to the Science Museum, a quick stop at a statue of Indian philosopher Basavesvara on Albert Embankment, a trip to the Crick Institute, and later presiding over a forum of UK and Indian CEOs with May.
For his supporters, however, the Bharat Ki Baath Sab Ke Saath event was the highlight of the prime minister’s visit to London, his second in three years. In November 2015, Modi was welcomed to the UK by then prime minister David Cameron, and the Indian leader addressed a 50,000-strong gathering at Wembley Stadium in north London.
While on a much smaller scale this time, the meeting was by no means a restrained affair as Modi spoke for over two hours, holding forth on his government’s achievements – among them the demonitisation drive, building toilets, bringing electricity to rural areas, making healthcare affordable and the “surgical strikes” India launched against terrorists in Pakistan.
Sat in the audience were prominent British politicians and leading Asian personalities such as Priti Patel MP, Lord Jitesh Gadhia and Lord Meghnad Desai.
Prasoon Joshi, a lyricist, poet, screenwriter as well as chairperson of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, conducted the informal discussion with the prime minister, who took questions from the audience and some which were sent through video and social media.
Modi described how he was a results-oriented person, motivated by a desire to help his fellow citizens, whom he regarded as his family. Later, the prime minister also spoke of optimism, being a glass-half-full kind of person and leading a disciplined life without being a burden on anyone.
“Detachment is powerful,” he asserted, and narrated tales of auctioning off gifts he acquired during his three terms as chief minister of Gujarat.
Since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led government took charge in 2014, India’s people were no longer happy with only incremental change, the prime minister said. “Impatience is not a bad thing. The day I lose my impatience, I will be useless for the country,” he said, drawing loud cheers from the gathering.
Often, the audience shouted the slogan Bharat mata ki jai to cheer the prime minister, while outside there were small groups of protesters.
When a member of the audience asked about the surgical strikes of 2016, when India struck at suspected terrorist sites in Pakistan, Modi’s reply showed his steeliness. “India knows how to answer,” he said, adding it would take appropriate action when those who harbour a “terrorism export industry” kill innocent people.
“The plan was implemented with no mistakes,” and India offered Pakistan the courtesy of informing them first before letting the media know what had happened, the prime minister recalled. Relations between India and Pakistan hit a new low since that incident and there was no meeting with the Pakistani leader during the CHOGM meet last week.
The audience also heard about the government tackling poverty and empowering poor people, helping farmers and realising the digital India dream, with procedures simplified for setting up businesses.
“I work hard, there is no disputing that,” he said. Modi recalled his modest roots as a tea seller at a railway station, but said he was now a representative of 1.2 billion people who had been invited to Buckingham Palace.
“Prince Charles came to India last November to personally invite me. And the Queen wrote me a letter,” the Indian leader said.
To another question about how he maintained the stamina to do 16-hour days, Modi paid tribute to his teachers.
“I am a student at heart and hope that never dies,” he said. “I didn’t have much experience when I took up my current post, I can make mistakes, but I will never do anything with wrong intentions.”
In November 2016, Modi announced that high value currency notes of `500 and `1,000 were banned overnight. The move stunned the country as well as foreign leaders and heads of international financial institutions.
“There were attacks against me, but I trusted my people and people were willing to go through hardship for the greater good of the country,” Modi said.
Slamming his detractors, however, the prime minister said his problem was not against criticism.
“To criticise, one has to research and find out the proper facts. Sadly, it does not happen now. What happens instead is allegations,” Modi said. “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism.”
On recent incidents of rapes of minor girls in the country, Modi expressed his concern, calling it an evil of not just the individual, but also of society.
He 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. He has a mother too in his house.”
Responding to a question on affordable health care in India, Modi said his government’s focus was on three things – education for students, employment for youth and medicines for the elderly.
And when asked about whether he could change the country alone, Modi said he was an ordinary citizen just like any other Indian. “We have a million problems, but we have a billion solutions,” he said.