The image was a creation of the Awaaz Network whose aim is to monitor and combat religious hatred in South Asia and the UK. Pulling off visual protest took weeks of planning said Suresh Grover, director of The Monitoring Group that is part of the network. The protest was timed to coincide with the Bihar election results, UK’s Remembrance Day that commemorates the fight against facism and the Second World War, and Modi’s visit. The banner that was finally projected from halfway across Westminster Bridge went up right next to the Remembrance Day poppies on the Big Ben.
The Awaaz Network also had its reasons for choosing the British parliament building. "[Mr Modi] has always tried to get legitimacy on the world stage by speaking at parliament. Although he is not speaking at parliament, he has been invited to be in parliament by the Speaker of the House and Mr Cameron," said Grover. “I think it sends a clear message that a large part of the Indian community here reject the politics of hate and intolerance, wherever it takes place – in India, Pakistan, any country in south Asia or this country,”
Grover and the Awaaz Network are planning a big protest march on November 12, a day before Modi is expected to address a crowd of close to 70,000 people in London’s Wembley stadium.
“You cannot deny that there has to be trade between two countries,” said Grover explaining the nature of the protest. “What we are objecting to is the slavish attitude that the UK government is taking in bolstering Mr Modi’s image, which we think is undeserved and totally blind to the serious issue of violence against minorities, violence and murder of secularists and so on.”
Grover dismissed the narrative that Hindus among the Indian diaspora in the UK were welcoming Modi while the Muslims opposed him. He said more and more people were becoming disenchanted with the BJP government especially with the recent rhetoric over cow protection, murders over beef and the protests against intolerance by writers, academics, economists and film stars.
Modi’s visit to the UK is the first by an Indian Prime Minister in more than a decade and the British government is determined to make it a success to build new economic partnerships in Asia. The two governments are hoping to build strategic relationships and announce deals worth some $15 billion, especially in sectors like telecom, oil and gas, and food and beverage. But Modi’s visit is under a big cloud with the BJP receiving a drubbing in the Bihar elections, with the unrest in Punjab resonating with Sikhs in the UK and the growing chorus of criticism about the Prime Minister’s silence over right wing groups resorting to violence across India.
This is what the Awaaz Network says it is trying to highlight with its protest. “The Awaaz attitude is that the British government cannot be slavish to an agenda set by Mr Modi’s supporters to cast him as a world leader where he wants to sell Digital India and development in India where the reality is very different,” said Grover.
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