India not intolerant: Modi

‘Constitution protects everyone’s freedom’

India and the U.K. announced an enhanced defence and strategic partnership as well as a civil nuclear agreement as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart David Cameron met here on Thursday, and said trade deals worth £ 9 billion would be signed during Mr. Modi’s three-day visit.

Facing questions for the first time about protests over growing “intolerance” in India, Mr. Modi told British journalists that the “Constitution protects freedom and thoughts of every individual.”

“India is the land of Gandhi and Buddha, we are not an intolerant society,” Mr. Modi said in answer to a pointed question, adding, “every incident taking place in any corner of the nation is a serious incident, law takes its course and strict action is taken.”

The Prime Minister made the statement, even as more than 1,000 protesters raised slogans against him outside 10 Downing Street. The protesters comprising Kashmiri, Sikh, Nepali, Tamil and Dalit groups were joined by British human rights activists, and even saw an appearance by controversial politician George Galloway, who had once backed Saddam Hussein.

“David Cameron shouldn’t have invited Mr. Modi,” Mr. Galloway told the protesting crowds, even as he was countered by supporters of Mr. Modi, who raised slogans of “Modi, Modi” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai.” As the crowds swelled outside the PM’s office and Parliament, the London police had to close off several arterial roads and barricaded much of the area.

Cameron offers to fund Modi’s vision

After his parleys at 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was accompanied by his counterpart David Cameron through the entire day on Thursday, paid homage at the recently installed statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London as British jets streaked the sky with the tricolor.

Later in the evening, after the Prime Ministers attended a meeting of British MPs for a speech by Mr. Modi, they stood on the banks of the Thames river where the iconic London Eye ferris wheel was also lit up in the colours of the flag.

On the economic front, India announced the first government-backed rupee denominated bond for the Indian Railways, which Mr. Cameron called a part of the U.K.’s desire to become “the number one partner to finance the immense economic vision of Prime Minister Modi and make London the centre for off-shore rupee trading.”

British and Indian companies are expected to sign deals worth 9 billion pounds ($13.6 billion), Mr. Cameron disclosed.

New mechanism

Echoing the need to drive relations through the economic partnership, Mr. Modi announced that the government will launch a new fast track mechanism to channel British investments in India.

Addressing British MPs, Mr. Modi spoke of the bilateral talks on climate change and clean energy cooperation. “In Britain, you are more likely to use an umbrella against the rain than the sun,” Mr. Modi said to much laughter from the audience.