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Boris Johnson sparks outrage in India with bulldozer photo shoot

Published: Updated:

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in India under the shadow of “partygate” and quickly found himself in the middle of another controversy when he jumped atop an excavator at a factory of the British construction giant JCB.

Over the last week, bulldozers, including those made by JCB, have been in the news as government officials in several Indian states, including the capital Delhi, used the machines to destroy the homes and businesses of mostly poor Muslims as punishment for allegedly indulging in crimes like stone-pelting during religious clashes with majority Hindu groups.

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The photos of Johnson perched on a JCB bulldozer drew criticism on social media and landed him on the front page of many newspapers - a distraction from the “Global Britain” push that brings him on a two-day visit to the South Asian nation.

Amnesty India tweeted to call the UK leader’s visit to the JCB factory “ignorant.” The Indian Express newspaper captioned its front page photograph: “Boris & Bulldozer.

Critics have called out Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - which rules several states where the demolitions took place - for using the bulldozers to intimidate India’s Muslim minority, and collectively punish families for crimes without any judicial process.

India’s top court Wednesday ordered a stay on one such drive in Delhi. The government has denied the demolitions target Muslims alone.

Johnson is expected to discuss trade and security with Modi on Friday. He’s also expected to raise Russia’s war in Ukraine as the UK tries to persuade India to join efforts to isolate Moscow.

There was no immediate comment from the British High Commission in New Delhi. An email seeking comment from JCB, outside of UK business hours, was not immediately answered

Johnson has good relations with JCB, whose chairman is one of the most prominent corporate Brexit backers. The prime minister gave an election campaign speech at its headquarters in 2019, and JCB and its billionaire chairman Anthony Bamford have both been donors to Johnson.

Johnson arrived in India as British lawmakers discussed “partygate” and whether the leader should be referred to Parliament’s standards committee. That’s after police fined him over a birthday party during the pandemic — making him the first UK prime minister found to have broken the law.

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