The Westminster Central Hall reverberated with chants of ‘Modi Modi’ and ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is in the United Kingdom as part of his five-day three-nation tour, interacted with participants in the ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Sath’ programme on Wednesday at Westminster’s Central Hall in London. An estimated 1,700 people, mostly from the Indian diaspora in the UK were present at the event organised by the Europe India Forum. The “no-holds-barred interaction” saw Modi fielding questions from across the world.

In a very candid deliberation with censor board chief Prasoon Joshi, PM spoke on topics as diverse as crimes against women and children in the country, his government’s performance and programmes, and India’s foreign policy, especially with regard to countering terrorism and dealing with Pakistan. During the programme, Modi also spoke of about the crimes against women and their safety.

The surgical strikes conducted by the Indian Army in the aftermath of the Uri attack and the Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission (NHPM), dubbed as ‘Modicare’, were also some topics of discussion during Modi’s interaction. The prime minister also spoke about his personal outlook regarding serving the country and the role of criticism of the government in a democracy.

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In response to the series of questions, Modi said his problem is not against criticism. “To criticise, one has to research and find proper facts. Sadly, it does not happen now. What happens instead is allegations,” Modi said during his more than two-hour-long interaction. “I want this government to be criticised. Criticism makes democracy strong. Democracy cannot succeed without constructive criticism,” he added.

When questioned on the surgical strikes, Modi asserted that India will not tolerate those who like to export terror and will respond to them. Modi revealed that before making the news of the surgical strikes public, India had repeatedly attempted to contact Pakistan government to inform them about the top-secret operation conducted by the Indian forces. The Prime Minister expressed his pride in the Army as they executed the surgical strikes with perfection and returned after finishing the task before dawn.

While interacting with the people present there PM Modi spoke in connection with the Kathua and Unnao rape horrors without mentioning either by name, saying nothing could be worse than the rape of a girl child and this is not the time to compare metrics on rape cases between two governments.

The prime minister highlighted the contribution of 12th-century Lingayat philosopher Basaveshwara at the event in London.

Responding to a question on Modicare, the prime minister said his government was working for the health of every Indian. “Our focus is on three things: education for students, employment for youth and medicines for the elderly,” he said, adding that the Ayushman Bharat National Health Protection Mission will cover more than 10 crore poor families providing them health insurance of up to Rs5 lakh per family annually. He hoped that more than 1,000 hospitals will come up in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities in the near future because of Modicare.

On an optimistic note, he said, “If India has a million problems, we have a billion solutions”,

Responding to an audience question on how he stays fit, Modi replies: “For the last 20 years, I’ve been on a special diet. I take 1 to 2 kg of criticism daily. That’s the secret of my fitness,” Modi said sparking many rounds of laughter in Westminster’s Central Hall in London.

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