The South Asia Solidarity Group led a demonstration along with 10 other groups outside the office of Labour Party MP Barry Gardiner in north London yesterday. Gardiner, in his capacity as the chair of the Labour Friends of India group, sparked widespread debate last month with an invitation for Modi to speak on “The Future of Modern India” at a special event in the House of Commons.
But the election campaign chief of the BJP has since declined the invitation and said he has no immediate plans to visit the UK. “In the face of so much opposition to the invitation to Modi, Barry Gardiner has now released a statement saying that Modi is unable to come in the next few weeks. But we are continuing our campaign demanding that the invitation is officially withdrawn and not repeated,” a South Asia Solidarity Group spokesperson said. “Modi has already tried to make political capital in India from this invitation, and we need to send a clear message that he is not welcome here. This is part of a larger campaign and we will also take our protest to the Conservative Friends of India, which had also sent Modi an invitation,” she added. The protest, which included a theatrical skit on the relationship between Gardiner and Modi, was backed by a range of UK-based groups such as the Council of Indian Muslims, Islamic Human Rights Commission, CasteWatch UK and Southall Black Sisters. The group waved placards demanding “justice” for three British citizens – Saeed and Shakeel Dawood and Mohammed Aswat – who lost their lives in the 2002 Gujarat riots. Gardiner’s fellow Labour party MP, Mike Wood, tabled an early day motion (EDM) in the House of Commons last week calling on the UK Home Office to deny Modi entry into the UK. “Mr Modi was previously denied a visa on grounds that he was ‘responsible for or directly carried out…particularly severe violations of religious freedom’; and calls on Mr Speaker and the House authorities to ban Mr Modi from entering the Palace of Westminster,” reads the EDM, which is a means by which MPs can draw attention to specific issues in Parliament. Gardiner has so far stood by his invitation to the BJP leader, who he describes as a politician “who cannot be ignored”.