Modi has made a name for himself in diplomatic circles for his rockstar-like foreign tours. His latest visit will probably be used to further economic ties between India and Britain and emphasize the influence of the 1.5 million-strong Indian diaspora on British culture. It's likely to be a remarkable spectacle. "I call it Modimania," C.B. Patel, a London-based publisher and columnist, told the BBC of the growing excitement.
However, Modi inspires a polarization in Britain that few other world leaders can rival. Before he even set foot in Britain, he was the target of a high-profile protest in the center of London. It had a simple message: "Modi not welcome."
That message was briefly projected on London's Palace of Westminster — the meeting place of Parliament — on Sunday around 9 p.m. by Awaaz Network, a Britain-based organization that says it promotes secularism and human rights in South Asia. "Pulling off the visual protest took weeks of planning," Suresh Grover, an Awaaz member, said in a statement. “I think it sends a clear message that a large part of the Indian community here reject the politics of hate and intolerance, wherever it takes place – in India, Pakistan, any country in South Asia or this country."
The image was illegally projected on the Parliament building for a few minutes before British authorities stepped in. It prompted outrage among some in Parliament, who deemed the act of protest disrespectful because it was carried out on Remembrance Sunday.
Although the sentiment behind Awaaz's protest is certainly not shared by everyone in Britain's South Asian community, it does highlight some of the more controversial aspects of Modi's visit. Until just three years ago, he was under a diplomatic boycott from the British government over anti-Muslim riots that broke out in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, when he was the state's leader. The riots left 1,000 to 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead, and many say Modi did not do enough to stop the violence.
Modi has attempted to put this behind him since taking office in May 2014, emphasizing his economic reforms and portraying himself as a global statesman. However, critics point to a number of recent incidents, including mob killings, as evidence of a growing intolerance among Modi's Hindu base against India's religious minorities and its atheists. The Indian prime minister has also retained ties with the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a group that many argue is trying to turn India into a Hindu state.
Modi has never been directly linked to violence, but his critics say he has created an environment that fosters the spread of intolerance and strife. "By his rise to power, by his strategic silences, by his smirking apologies, Modi gives succour to the gathering mob," the Guardian's Aditya Chakrabortty wrote in a fiery opinion column this week.
Complicating matters further, Modi's ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lost a key local election this week, suggesting that its promises of a better economic future aren't ringing true for everyone in India. For the first time since entering office, Modi is on the back foot and is probably hoping that the trip to Britain will restore some glory.
Whether this tough atmosphere will dampen "Modimania" is unclear. A number of Muslim and Sikh groups have said that they will protest Modi's arrival, as has the Awaaz Network. However, it's possible that they may be outnumbered by demonstrations in support of Modi — much like when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited London (though many in Britain suspect that those supporters were state-sponsored). Almost 50 British lawmakers, including opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, have signed a motion that calls on Cameron to raise several humanitarian issues with Modi while he is in town.
It's doubtful that Cameron will want to push too hard, however. Britain was once the imperial overlord of India, but the situation has perhaps now reversed, with Britain's government bending over backward as it seeks to tap the huge economic opportunities that India offers (and to a lesser extent, the political opportunities presented by Britain's Hindu minority).
Despite their historical links, the two countries do relatively little trade — and London would like to do far more, especially if Modi's pro-business policies work well. Tellingly, Cameron has made three trips to India since taking office, including a 2010 visit in which he led what was described as the largest British trade delegation in living memory. Meanwhile, Modi chose to visit several countries in his never-ending diplomatic tour before finally reaching Britain.
More on WorldViews