Boris Johnson’s visit to inaugurate a JCB factory during his two-day tour of India was described as “musical” amid outcry over the demolition of predominantly Muslim homes in the country with the company’s bulldozers.
The British Prime Minister landed in India on Thursday, a day after Delhi municipalities advanced with JCB bulldozers to demolish homes and properties belonging to mostly Muslim residents in an area of the capital where religious unrest erupted over the weekend.
Local authorities have denied that the demolitions were linked to the communal violence and said there was no discrimination involved in the ride, but the incident has sparked an uproar and many observers are unfortunate in timing the visit found at Mr Johnson’s JCB factory.
Mr Johnson’s first stop in India was the city of Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, where he was transferred to the Sabarmati Ashram, the former home of Mahatma Gandhi. He was photographed with Gandhi’s tradition charkha (spinning wheel).
But it was the second stop on the trip – the inauguration of a new factory for UK-based Joseph Cyril Bamford Excavators Limited (JCB) – that drew the attention of a number of excited Indian commentators to Mr Johnson’s visit.
Mr Johnson had boarded an Indian Air Force Chinook helicopter to visit JCB’s new factory in Vadodara, owned by major Tory donor Lord Bamford.
Political commentators in India pointed out that bulldozers and excavators from the company, which also makes agricultural and construction machinery, were used to demolish houses in a high-profile incident in Jahangirpuri, north Delhi, the day before.
JCB logos featured prominently in photos taken Thursday, which showed tearful residents scrambling to retrieve personal belongings from the rubble of their homes.
“What bulldozer irony! Britain’s Prime Minister @BorisJohnson is set to inaugurate the JCB plant in Halol, which will make bulldozers, on a day when the Supreme Court takes note of the constitutional limits on the government’s use of the machine. #jahagirpuri”, Sanjay Kapoor, editor of India’s Bad news magazine wrote.
“JCB’s website proudly states that it is used in construction, agriculture, recycling and power generation. In India it is used to disempower the poor and inflict collective humiliation on Muslims. I hope friends in the UK hold their PM accountable,” tweeted Alishan Jafri, a Muslim journalist in India who writes for The Wire.
“It seems like @BorisJohnson’s visit is now going increasingly numb. Visit a JCB plant where bulldozers are used to illegally terrorize Muslims? Someone at @UKinIndia didn’t get their job done. The only way Johnson can save this trip is by speaking out,” wrote Mohamed Zeeshan, a leading Muslim columnist in India.
“With many such images emerging from Delhi, it is ironic that British Prime Minister @BorisJohnson will today inaugurate a JCB factory in Gujarat,” wrote Danish Khan, another Indian journalist who shared the image of the JCB bulldozer at was used in the demolitions in North Delhi.
The demolition action of the North Delhi Municipal Corporation, which is under the control of the Narendra Modi-led Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), continued for some time on Wednesday morning despite a stay order issued by the country’s top court.
Local residents and human rights activists claimed the demolition action was biased against Muslim residents after officers came close to damaging a temple that was in the same lane as other buildings allegedly encroaching.
During his visit to the JCB factory, Mr Johnson dismissed questions about authoritarianism in his host country and insisted India was “democratic”.
Nonetheless, when asked by broadcasters during the visit to the JCB factory, Mr Johnson suggested that he would raise with Mr Modi issues such as press restrictions, protection of minorities and the use of bulldozers to demolish mainly Muslim homes.
He said: “Of course we always raise the difficult issues, but the fact is that India is a country of 1.35 billion people and it’s democratic, it’s the largest democracy in the world.”
Violence erupted in the Jahangirpuri area on April 16 and 18 during Hindu festivals when saffron-clad men chanting slogans led a procession in the area, which is mostly populated by Muslims, and scuffles broke out between groups of people .
A similar incident follows in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where the state government – also led by the BJP – openly said it would destroy Muslim property in punishment for the violence that marred a Hindu festival in the town of Khagone.
According to news reports, authorities there have pledged to demolish at least 50 “illegal” buildings owned by Muslims accused of throwing stones at the Ram Navami procession, saying damage sustained during the violence to public and private buildings by be made good to the rioters.
Mr Modi’s government has been repeatedly accused of encouraging hardline Hindu religious groups, and several incidents of hate speech against Muslims at religious events have been reported in recent months. Recent Hindu festivals in at least five Indian states have seen clashes between the two communities.
During his visit to Ahmedabad, Mr Johnson is also expected to meet billionaire Gautam Adani, a staunch supporter of Mr Modi and other Gujarati, and tour the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City or GIFT City before flying to Delhi where he will meet the Indian becomes prime minister.
Downing Street says Mr Johnson will focus on strengthening India-Britain trade and defense ties and that the Prime Minister will not “lecture” his host on any differences, including India’s continued neutral stance on the conflict in Ukraine.