NEW DELHI: Three specific questions from British journalists and it became clear that the dissent and worry within India about growing intolerance has played off on the international audience, marking a difference between this foreign tour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as compared to the 26 trips that preceded it.

In a joint appearance PM Modi and British Prime Minister David Cameron took two questions each from four journalists, two from each country. The British scribes were to the point, hard hitting, the two Indians were selected to raise the issues of terrorism and climate change, both subjects that PM Modi feels comfortable with. The first on terrorism appeared to senior journalists in Delhi to be planted, or should one say tutored beforehand.

The media reports in the UK preceding the Prime Minister’s visit, the Cambridge scholars signing a petition to their Vice Chancellor urging him to withdraw the invitation to PM Modi to visit the University, the protesters gathering on the streets as part of the Modi Not Welcome campaign all fed into the three questions below. And in the process sparked off a debate as to whether the discord over intolerance at home has started having an international impact.

1. PM Modi is India is becoming an increasingly intolerant place- why?

2. PM David Cameron, how do you feel welcoming PM Modi here when for two years he was not permitted to because of his record in the Indian state (Gujarat).

3. PM Modi what is your message for the protestors outside who say that you do not deserve the respect because of your record (Gujarat).

PM Modi who does not take questions from the Indian media at home, and does not like press conferences while abroad answered the first question in measured tones, in Hindi that he used through the press interaction, to the effect: India is the land of the Buddha, of Gandhi. Tolerance runs through our veins, and India will not tolerate anyone who goes against this. If anything happens in any corner of India, any one incident, or two or three take place even in a country of one and a half billion people, it is and will be dealt with seriously, the law is and will be implemented strongly. India is a vibrant democracy, and we are all committed to the Constitution that respects the right to life, and the individual’s right to security and freedom of thought.

Although the second question was addressed to PM Cameron, Prime Minister Modi answered it as well maintaining that he had visited the UK in 2003 (meaning after the Gujarat violence in 2002) and was given a warm welcome as the then Chief Minister of the state. He claimed he had never been stopped by the UK, adding, “you have a wrong perception, correct it.”

PM Modi ignored the question about the protestors demonstrating against him just outside, on the road leading to 10 Downing Street.

This the first visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi where the domestic situation has chased his international profile. PM Modi had tried to separate the two, and had succeeded as the governments of the countries he visited along with the media joined Indian euphoria in respect of the mandate he had received in the general elections. However, the violence within the country; the strong protest by public intellectuals, and now the Bihar defeat for the BJP----all that has been widely covered in the British and the world media---has brought home the domestic worry and concerns to the world audience that has been reflected in this visit.

Significantly retired Indian diplomats linked the domestic impact on foreign policy pointing out that discord at home was bound to impact on the Prime Ministers foreign tours. Ambassador Meera Shankar said in a television discussion “ the issue that is in the forefront of the national agenda will be picked up by the press of the other countries. In UK itself 200 odd academics and others took it up, there was an Early Day motion also, there was some degree of mobilisation so all this impacts.”

Ambassador KC Singh, was of the view that PM Modi and his government had managed to transcend the Gujarat 2002 image that had denied him visas to visit the US and the UK. This was left behind, according to him, but after the currrent spate of incidents of intolerance it all has resurfaced. “The degeneration of the Bihar campaign” the Ambassador said had also fed into the general climate that has been commented upon adversely by the big British media in a series of articles and editorials. Singh went so far as to say that this time an “injured Prime Minister” was visiting the UK and the difference was noticeable to his hosts and the international community.

Even ‘strategic expert’ Maroof Raza who is very visible on television networks supporting the establishment has been now moved to criticise the intolerance at home, maintaining that it was clear that investors would not be attracted to a country where there was instability at home.

Experts have pointed out, on television and outside the studios, that the ‘suspicion of silence’ weighed against the Prime Minister as he was very vocal on all issues except the incidents of violence by the Hindutva groups. As a result politicians in the UK this time around have come under tremendous pressure from sections of the intellectuals, media and activists to take a position against PM Modi. Petitions urging PM Cameron to raise the human rights issue with the visiting Prime Minister compelled a government spokesperson to say that this was on the agenda.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who will be meeting PM Modi now is under even more pressure from the above sections to raise the issues of rights and freedoms with him with several MPs raising this in a joint letter as well.

In other words, despite the red carpet treatment by the Cameron government that has already been criticised by the media and intellectuals for hosting ‘dictators’ from Egypt and China just recently, there are blips that do not portend well for PM Modi’s efforts to de-link his foreign visits from the domestic agenda.