Modi in UK

As Modi speaks of Sufis and tea at Wembley, UK's Cameron insists Acche Din are on the way

The prime minister's speech mostly covered familiar territory, with little acknowledgment of his party's loss in Bihar.

If you were not paying attention to local Indian politics, you wouldn't have noticed anything different about Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday. Yet another major venue, tens of thousands of rapturous fans, an Indian cultural extravaganza and a speech that was filled with all the hallmarks of the patented Modi-Diaspora script. Funnily enough, it fell to British Prime Minister David Cameron to update Modi's Lok Sabha campaign slogan, acche din aane wale  hai (the good times are coming).

"They said a chaiwallah would never govern the world's largest democracy but he proved them wrong," Cameron, who seemed thoroughly overwhelmed by the 60,000-strong crowd at London's Wembley Stadium, said. "He rightly said acche din aane wale hai, but with his energy, with his vision, with his ambition, I would go one further and say this, acche din zaroor ayega (the good times will definitely come)."

The fact that these good times are still in the future has become a bit of a bitter note for Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, now constantly taunted by questions of when acche din are actually going to come. Coming so soon after the biggest setback to his national ambitions since becoming prime minister, with the people of Bihar firmly rejecting the BJP last weekend, Modi barely veered off of script with almost no acknowledgment of anything having changed.

Yet there were some changes in his tone, apparent to those who might have followed his speeches over the last year.

The first interesting theme was along the lines of what more economically right wing supporters of the prime minister have long been pushing the government to address.

Modi's second theme, picked up immediately afterwards, was a little more brazen considering his party's loss in Bihar is widely attributed to its use of divisive politics as a campaign strategy. "World leaders tell me that they run smaller countries and have so many problems, but they ask, ‘tell us Modiji, how do 125 crore people in your country live so peacefully and in harmony?"

This suggestion of perfect harmony would perhaps find a few sceptics in Punjab, currently seeing farmer agitations and religious protests, or Uttar Pradesh, where a man was killed on suspicion of eating beef, or Karnataka, where debates over a long-dead emperor led to the death of a man.

Modi addressed this too later in the speech, falling back on what is now a cliche for him: Criticising the media.

The prime minister took a brief, careful digression to talk specifically about Islam, not a subject he is comfortable discussing (at least in public). "I sometimes feel if the Sufi tradition was stronger and better understood in Islam, no one would pick up guns."

The rest of the speech covered familiar territory: Jan Dhan Yojana, anti-corruption, electrification, global warming and terror. Modi made fun of how little sun Britain gets, but nevertheless called on the United Kingdom to join his Solar Alliance initiative.

There was one prominent acronym: First Develop India, alongside Foreign Direct Investment. And there was one familiar old-Indian-uncle joke: Modi took the audience from James Bond to Brooke Bond, the tea company, to the new rupee-denominated bond India is floating on the London Stock exchange. Modi also made a big enough deal about announcing an Ahmedabad-London flight for Air India, one of many nods to the vast Gujarati audience.

As always, setting down the very point of addressing such large diasporic audiences, Modi ended his speech with a call to action. “Whatever the colour of your passport, you are bound to me by the colour of your blood,” the prime minister said. “The country is waiting for you. Come, move forward with India."

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