Outcry in India as Boris Johnson visits JCB plant amid demolitions row

Boris Johnson’s attempt to use his India visit to hail the success of JCB, the digger firm owned by a Tory donor, was met with a backlash on Thursday over the use of its machinery in the mass demolition of homes.

The prime minister arrived in India as a fierce row rages in Delhi over the demolition of mainly Muslim settlements in an area of the capital hit by communal violence – an issue that is being considered by India’s supreme court.

TV footage about the demolition controversy, running prominently on Indian channels, showed JCB bulldozers being used to flatten properties.

The campaign group Amnesty India tweeted: “In the backdrop of Municipal Corporation of Delhi using JCB bulldozers to raze down shops of Muslims in north-west Delhi’s Jahangirpuri yesterday, UK prime minister’s inauguration of a JCB factory in Gujarat is not only ignorant but his silence on the incident is deafening.”

Ali Khan Mahmudabad, a historian and campaigner, posted: “The British PM went to a bulldozer factory at a time such as this! Talk about optics. Wow! Garlanded bulldozers. Just what I needed to see.”

During a visit to a new JCB factory, Johnson called it a “living, breathing incarnation of the umbilicus between the UK and India”.

He said: “This is a world-leading factory – 600,000 diggers a year coming from India, exported from India to 110 countries with British technology.”

Challenged about whether he would raise the demolition controversy with Narendra Modi when he meets the Indian prime minister on Friday, Johnson said: “We always raise the difficult issues, of course we do, but the fact is that India is a country of 1.35 billion people and it is democratic, it’s the world’s largest democracy.”

The prime minister’s official spokesperson, when asked whether Johnson had visited the company because its chairman, Anthony Bamford, is a Conservative donor, responded: “No, he chose to go to the JCB factory because it is a very good illustration of UK business, working with India and the Indian government to benefit both the UK and India.”

A spokesperson for JCB declined to comment.

Johnson had hoped to use the two-day trip to India to highlight the close economic and security links between the two countries, but he has found himself repeatedly pressed about Partygate.

Johnson took an Indian military helicopter from Ahmedabad in Gujarat to visit the new factory in Vadodara, where he inspected the works alongside Lord Bamford.

The prime minister has repeatedly visited JCB factories, including during the 2019 general election campaign when he drove a digger through a wall of polystyrene bricks to demonstrate his determination to “get Brexit done”.

In January 2019, when he was a backbencher, he received a £10,000 donation from the firm three days before giving a speech at its headquarters praising JCB’s business acumen.

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