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Modi visit to UK brings US$13b of deals, protests
[LONDON] British and Indian companies agreed on £9 billion (S$19.4 billion) of deals as Narendra Modi became the first Indian prime minister to visit the UK in almost a decade.
Speaking at a joint press conference in London on Thursday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the two countries had not realised "the full potential" of their relationship.
Agreements include a five-year partnership to develop three Indian cities, a memorandum of understanding to develop nuclear-power plants and a deal to allow rupee-denominated Indian Railway bonds to be traded in London.
"India invests more into the UK than it does in the rest of the European Union combined," Mr Cameron said. "I think there's scope to go much further."
Mr Modi arrived in London to protests over what critics say is growing intolerance in India since his Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power last year.
Sikhs carrying banners, Kashmiris and Nepalis with flags and Muslims holding placards chanted and shouted as Mr Modi was driven to address Parliament following his meeting with Cameron.
Protesters drew attention to sexual violence and caste conflict in India and more than 200 authors, including Salman Rushdie, signed an open letter urging Cameron to address "the rising climate of fear" in India during his talks with Mr Modi.
BUDDHA AND GANDHI
In India, leading authors and poets recently returned awards from the National Academy of Letters, accusing the organisation of staying silent over the killing of an academic who had criticised idol worship in Hinduism.
Mr Modi insisted that intolerance was unacceptable in the "land of Buddha and Gandhi." "India is a vibrant democracy that protects every citizen and his views in accordance with our constitution and we are committed to that," he told reporters.
A year and half after becoming prime minister, there is concern over the slow pace of economic reform in a country projected by the United Nations to be the world's most populous by 2022.
Mr Modi has suffered recent political setbacks, with the BJP losing both Bihar and Delhi in regional elections this year.
The benchmark Sensex index fell to the lowest since Sept 28 this week.
Full details of the deals agreed during the visit were due to be released later on Thursday, but Mr Modi said the two countries would work together on renewable energy, defence and developing their respective service sectors.
Mr Cameron's office also highlighted a deal for London's Kings College Hospital to build a facility in Chandigarh and India's TVS Group to create more than 100 jobs in Barnsley, northern England.
The UK Treasury did give details of various bond issues Indian companies are planning for the London market, including that of Indian Railways.
While the size of that issue wasn't specified, the Treasury said HDFC, India's largest mortgage lender, is proposing rupee bonds of up to US$750 million, while communications company Bharti Airtel would issue a sterling bond of as much as £500 million.
Vodafone Group Plc, the largest foreign direct investor in India, pledged to invest about £1.3 billion more. This includes £800 million to upgrade its network in India, which is the highest contributor to the group's service revenue, Chief Executive Office Vittorio Colao said in a statement shared with Modi on Thursday.
"This is a huge moment for our two great nations, we must seize the opportunities, remove the obstacles to cooperation, instill full confidence in our relations and remain sensitive to each other's interests," Mr Modi said in his address to lawmakers from both houses of Parliament.
"Strong as our partnership is, for a relationship such as ours, we must set higher ambitions." He spoke of progress in India being "the destiny of one- sixth of humanity."
Mr Modi, who is visiting Britain for three days, is due to lunch with Queen Elizabeth II tomorrow and hold a rally for thousands of supporters at Wembley Stadium in the hope of drumming up funds for pet projects, as he has done at similar events from New York to Sydney.
The UK is home to one of the largest populations of overseas Indians and shares a long history with India, which it ruled until 1947. Relations between the two countries, once "imprisoned by the past," are now a "modern, dynamic partnership," Mr Cameron said.
British relations with Mr Modi were not always so cordial. Human-rights groups accused Mr Modi of failing to stop deadly riots in 2002 when he was chief minister of the western state of Gujarat.
More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in the violence.
The US denied him a travel visa in 2005 and Britain cut off contact with his government for a decade.
Mr Modi has repeatedly denied the accusations and a Supreme Court-appointed panel found no evidence he gave orders that prevented assistance from reaching those being attacked.
Mr Modi implicitly backed Mr Cameron's push to keep Britain in the European Union in a referendum promised by end 2017.
"If there is an entry point for us into the EU it is the UK," Mr Modi said during the press conference. "We will continue to consider the UK as our entry point into the EU as much as possible."
In his speech, Mr Modi referred to the role the UK had played in educating and radicalising the leaders of the movement that led to India's independence.
"There are others who have spoken forcefully on the debts and dues of history," he said. "I will only say that many freedom fighters of India found their calling in the institutions of Britain. Many makers of modern India, including several of my distinguished predecessors, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Dr Manmohan Singh, passed through their doors."