It has been a long summer in the north London borough of Brent, one of the areas chosen for the government’s “racist van” advertising campaign pilot and the subject of “heavy-handed”immigration checks at train stations by the Borders Agency. Not all the political controversy has been provided by central government, however; one local politician has been doing a good job of stirring up contention. In August, Brent North MP Barry Gardiner invited the chief minister of the west Indian state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, to speak on “The Future of Modern India”, before an invited audience at the House of Commons. Barry Gardiner is the Chair of Labour Friends of India and his constituency includes a large Indian Gujarati community, both Hindu and Muslim. A few days later, this invitation was backed up by Shailesh Vara, Conservative MP for Cambridgeshire North West, and from the Conservative Friends of India. The invitation is a clear reflection of the UK’s trade interest in India and disregard for basic human rights.
As chief minister of Gujarat, a post he has held since 2001, Narendra Modi is accredited with the success of Gujarat in India’s economic miracle, opening up the state to direct foreign investment and growth in the manufacturing sector. With Indian parliamentary elections due to take place in 2014, he will almost certainly be confirmed as the candidate for his political party, the BJP, later this month. Speaking about the invitation, Barry Gardiner said, “He is obviously a key player in Indian politics, and as such he is somebody British politicians need to hear from.” While British politicians are undoubtedly keen to hear what deals and concessions he can offer British companies, there are a number of issues Narendra Modi would rather not talk about. Considered “one of the most polarizing political figures in India”, his party, the hard-line Hindu nationalist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian People’s Party), India’s main opposition party, actively discriminates against India’s minority groups. It is largely on this ticket that he came to and has sustained power.