Britain’s Cameron seeks “ambitious, modern partnership” with India

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Prime Minister David Cameron urged Britain and India Thursday to “forge a more ambitious, modern partnership” as he held talks with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.

Cameron said they wanted to create “a stronger economic partnership, a stronger defence partnership and a stronger global partnership,” adding that the two sides planned to sign agreements worth more than 9 billion pounds (13 billion dollars) during Modi’s three-day visit

“This is a huge moment for our two great nations,” Modi said in a later speech to the British Parliament. “So we must seize our opportunities, remove the obstacles to cooperation, instill full confidence in our relations and remain sensitive to each other’s interests.”

Agreements signed Thursday covered financing for Indian infrastructure, plans to issue rupee bonds in London, cooperation in nuclear energy, joint research in new technology and a five-year plan to develop three “smart cities” in India, Modi and Cameron said.

Smart cities are sustainable, networked municipalities whose infrastructure is highly developed and where information technology is used to provide services and improve efficiency.

Indian broadcaster NDTV said the deals could include one for India to buy 20 BAE Systems Hawk trainer aircraft for its armed forces.

Cameron earlier said Modi’s visit provided a “historic opportunity” to cement trade and business ties, adding that the two leaders wanted to “grab that opportunity with both hands.”

Modi is scheduled to hold further talks with Cameron during an overnight stay at Chequers, the British prime minister’s residence outside London.

He will also meet business leaders and attend a private lunch with Queen Elizabeth II Friday.

Before the visit, India announced the easing of foreign investment rules in 15 sectors, including defence and civil aviation, in major economic reforms to push growth.

The highlight of Modi’s visit is to be his speech to an expected 60,000 people, mostly from the 1.5-million-strong British-Indian community, at London’s Wembley Stadium on Friday afternoon.

Cameron will deliver a welcome speech at the four-hour event, which coincides with the traditional Hindu Diwali, or “festival of lights,” and also will feature singers, dancers and a fireworks display.

“We are very proud of the Indian diaspora in UK,” Modi said on his Twitter account Thursday. “Their role in strengthening India-UK ties is immense.”

The Wembley event “will be an expression of joy for all that we share: values, institutions, political system, sports, culture and art,” he said in Parliament.

“And it will be a recognition of our vibrant partnerships and shared future,” Modi said.

Rudra Chaudhuri, an expert in South Asian security at King’s College, London, said the visit was “designed to dazzle the Indian prime minister, the Indian people, and allow Mr Cameron the opportunity to place Britain at the centre of Modi’s political imagination.”

Cameron’s government “seems to understand that the biggest take-away of this visit will have less to do with deals and mergers than opportune photographs curated to remind the Indian prime minister of all that Britain stands for,” Chaudhari wrote on the BBC website.

The visit comes at a troubled time for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which suffered a defeat in key state elections this month, sparking criticism about the party’s leadership.

Several hundred protesters and a smaller group of Modi’s supporters gathered near Downing Street, the prime minister’s official London residence, ahead of his talks with Cameron.

Activists from the Britain-based pro-secular Awaaz Network have accused Modi of creating an “authoritarian agenda that seeks to undermine India’s democratic and secular fabric.”

Another large group accused Modi of an “illegal blockade in Nepal,” where it has blocked the border, citing security concerns, after violent protests broke out in Nepal’s southern plains three months ago.

Among the dozens of banners and placards was one linking “Gujaritis, Kashmiris, Tamils together against Modi.” Other protesters backed independence for the states of Jammu and Kashmir, which are divided and claimed by India and Pakistan.

About 200 writers, including Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan, issued an open letter urging Cameron to challenge Modi on “the rising climate of fear, growing intolerance and violence towards critical voices who challenge orthodoxy or fundamentalism in India.”

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