The invitation extended by Barry Gardiner, Chairman of the Labour Friends of India Group and Labour Member of Parliament from Brent North, to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to deliver a speech in the House of Commons has drawn mixed responses from within the Labour Party.
Early responses to Mr. Gardiner’s initiative suggest that this will be yet another political issue on which the Labour will be divided. While Mr. Gardiner defended his action on Indian television with the argument that the Supreme Court had absolved Mr. Modi of any involvement in the 2002 riots in Gujarat, an important and influential Labour voice has sharply disagreed.
John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, told The Hindu that he was “deeply shocked that Mr. Modi has been invited to meet British Parliamentarians, given the continuing concerns in India and across the world at his record on human rights and the sectarian politics of his party.”
He said the invitation “should certainly not be seen as an endorsement of Modi by the British Labour Party or the British Parliament. I do not believe Modi should be associated with by any true friend of democracy or India.” He added that he “along with others” would “boycott any meetings or events with Modi present.”
Labour peer Meghnad Desai has taken the opposite view. Lord Desai told The Hindu that he saw “no problem” with Mr. Gardiner’s overture to Mr. Modi. “After all, British parties have to keep themselves informed as to what is happening in India, as they have many NRI constituents who want to keep in touch.” He added that Indians should be “relaxed about this. It does not indicate any political preference.”
Mr. Modi had called off a visit to the U.K. in 2005 when memories of the 2002 riots were fresh, and the opposition to his visit in the U.K. was strident. Much has changed in the intervening years, and clearly, the mood has changed.
Human rights groups have, however, stayed their course. The South Asia Solidarity Group issued a statement opposing any move to invite Mr. Modi.
In a press release, the organisation said: “Last time Narendra Modi planned a visit to this country, a campaign by South Asians and other progressive people in the U.K. put a stop to it. This time, too, the same thing will happen. A campaign is building up! There is massive opposition in this country to Modi’s prime ministerial bid and the British government’s attempts to rehabilitate him for no reason other than allow British-based corporates to do business with Gujarat.”