Modi’s Visit To London: A Test of My Tolerance
Amidst my regular morning rush I mindlessly flipped through the NDTV update announcing that Modi had arrived in London. Hardly newsworthy, of course; it would have been difficult to not know about the visit. Few missed the life-size image of his face that was projected on the UK Parliament building a few days ago, especially those who live in Westminster, like me.
While Modi is well versed in creating larger-than-life images of himself, this one was of him wielding a sword in front of an Om symbol designed to look like the Swastika. A powerful message, perhaps, but a little too symbolic for my taste. For others, it is downright offensive.
But mixed as one’s feelings can be about the Awaaz Network’s controversial protest tactics, it’s difficult to have mixed feelings about Modi. “I’ve never seen a leader who divides opinion so drastically,” a Professor of mine commented last week.
Yet, while several took to Downing Street to protest his visit, I made my way toward Parliament with a group of students to participate in an NDTV (New Delhi Television) talk. After all, it seems like a constructive way to channel my energy, negative or not.
The sudden roar of three jet planes looming over the sky momentarily throw us off. The crowd slowly breaks into a cheer, as the vehicles leaves a tricolor trail of smoke behind. “How lucky that we made it just in time for that!” exclaims a student.
Luck is the leitmotif of Modi’s visit. The city feels so lucky to have Modi-ji in its proximity that even the London Eye dons the tricolour that evening.
Amidst the oohs and aahs, a few protestors accidentally stray outside their designated zone with signs reading “Modi Not Welcome” and “Follow The Constitution, Not The RSS.” Like I said, it’s hard to have mixed feelings about Modi.
A regional TV channel asks us for a sound-byte: “What does Modi’s visit mean to you?”
Parliament is embellished with the Indian flags, perhaps to compensate for the ugliness of the protests taking place just 400 metres away. But where I am, the energy is more anticipatory than angry, as Modi-ji is delivering his address inside the Parliament. A few minutes later we see his convoy of countless cars driving off.
Whilst waiting for NDTV to update us on the talk, our own discussion (and mini photoshoot) ensues. “The protests are so one-sided,” complains a student. “Half of the protestors don’t even know why they’re there.” At this point I could interject and ask: “isn’t the fundamental point of a protest to be one-sided?”. As for the mob mentality, isn’t that why 60,000 people are making their way to Wembley this weekend? But emotion precedes reasoning. I choose to remain silent. (Or as one could say, I pulled a Modi)
I ended up on the wrong side of Westminster tonight, turning Modi’s visit a test of my own tolerance. To the regional TV channel: maybe that’s what his visit means to me. Too bad I never gave that sound-byte.
Tolerance was of course brought up on the NDTV talk tonight, because no discussion about Modi is complete without it. “It’s distracting from his agenda in the UK,” complains a panel member, who is all about the bi-lateral relations that this visit symbolises. Plus, as a student points out, “why are we making such a big deal about it? The media is just creating a hype. Why do we keep bringing up the Gujarat riots, anyway?” The crowd claps. I must have missed the cue.
As I make my way home, I exchange notes with a journalist-friend who was covering the protests at Downing Street. The turnout was impressive, she tells me. But now her Twitter timeline is being flooded with abuses for reporting the incident. I can’t help but think: at least I passed the test of tolerance.