A protest involving the projection of a swastika on to the Houses of Parliament to demonstrate against the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to London has enraged an MP and prompted multiple inquiries by local authorities. The symbol appeared on the riverside of the Palace of Westminster alongside an image of the Hindu nationalist leader brandishing a sword and the words "Modi not welcome" on Sunday evening (8 November).
British Indian activists with the secular Awaaz Network group claimed responsibility for the stunt, which it said was aimed at underscoring Modi's alleged use of religious symbols for authoritarian ends. The swastika is in fact the OM sign in Hinduism.
"I think it sent a clear message that a large part of the Indian community here rejects the politics of hate and intolerance, wherever it takes place," Awaaz Network representative Suresh Grover said.
"Pulling off the visual protest took weeks of planning and liaising with professional technicians," he added, denying allegations that the images the protest circulating online were the result of Photoshop. "The protest was timed to coincide with the Bihar election results, UK's Remembrance Day that commemorates the fight against Nazism and Fascism during WWII and Mr Modi's visit".
The projection angered Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who raised the issue in parliament, saying he was "disgusted" at the sight on Remembrance Sunday.
"The political stunt is despicable and raises serious concerns about the security of the House of Commons," he said. "I have raised this matter in Parliament and have also written to the Speaker to ask for an investigation as to how happened and what is being done to prevent such offensive and divisive images from being projected onto the building again."
Westminster City Council looking into the matter
Police and the Westminster City Council were also dragged into the controversy. Scotland Yard said it was called to the scene by a member of the public but the incident was not being investigated as a crime.
A Westminster City Council spokesperson said they were looking into the matter to see if the stunt had breached planning regulations. "If there is any evidence to suggest this did happen, it could be a breach of strict planning rules which protect the world heritage site around the Houses of Parliament," they said.
"We take Westminster's heritage very seriously and it is important that the Houses of Parliament is recognised as one of the most historic places in the world. The council will take action where required."
Grover said they had not been contacted by police or the council and dismissed Blackman's outrage as the result of the MP's political affiliation, claiming he has likes to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) an Indian right-wing paramilitary group tied to Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Modi was once a RSS member himself. "[Blackman] has lost any moral authority on this issue," the Awaaz Network said in a statement. Blackman was not available for a comment.
The Awaaz Network is to hold another protest on 12 November outside parliament, where Grover said they expect thousands to show up. Demonstrators accuse Modi of pursuing a divisive Hindu nationalist agenda, leaving freedom of action to hard-line groups fuelling sectarianism.
Since he came to power, critics say, right-wing movements allied with the BJP that argue all Indians are Hindus by birth and those who have embraced Christianity or Islam should revert to their ancestral religion, have grown more brazen.
A number of churches have been vandalised in recent months and there have been reports of mass conversion ceremonies amid where some of the participants were said to have been threatened or cheated into attending. In October, more than 40 Indian writers returned top national awards in protest over a "climate of intolerance" under Modi's rule in India.
Modi is not new to religion-related controversies. In 2002, when he was chief minister of Gujarat State, he was accused of failing to halt religious violence that killed more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims. Some 80% of India's 1.2 billion people are Hindus. Muslims make up almost 15% of the population with Christians, Buddhists and other minorities dividing the remaining share.
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