Thank you for joining us this evening. Welcome to my Residence. And welcome to our national day - our annual celebration of the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
This year we celebrate three anniversaries of significance to the UK and India.
The first anniversary is that of the Gurkhas, who this year celebrate 200 years of service with the British Army. There is a strong bond between the Gurkhas and India too. The current Indian Army Chief, General Dalbir Singh, my next door neighbour, was commissioned into the Gurkha Rifles, and he will be travelling to London to join our celebration of the Gurkhas’ 200th anniversary in June. We are delighted that in honour of that anniversary the music tonight is being provided by the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas. Please give them a round of applause.
The second anniversary we commemorate this year is Magna Carta, which as you will all no doubt remember from your history lessons was signed in England 800 years ago by King John in the sight of Windsor Castle. Magna Carta laid the foundations for the great principles of individual liberty and the rule of law, principles to which India and the UK are dedicated.
And the third anniversary we celebrate tonight is that of HM Queen Elizabeth herself. She acceded to the throne 63 years ago in February 1952 at the tender age of 25.
On 9 September this year Her Majesty will become the longest ever reigning monarch in British history, when she passes the record set by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. During her reign HM The Queen has visited India three times. She retains a great affection for this country and its people. Tonight we salute her, and wish Her Majesty many more years in office.
This is a time to look forwards as well as back. In the UK we are looking forward to receiving Prime Minister Modi on his planned visit to Britain which we hope will take place later this year.
And we are also looking forward to our next general election, which will take place in the UK in a few weeks’ time, on 7 May. No-one can predict the outcome. But I will make you one prediction: that whichever government comes to power in the UK in May will continue to attach the highest importance to India, and to the UK’s relationship with this great country.
There are many reasons for that – India’s growing strategic significance, the prosperity and security we can achieve for our people by working together, the common values we share.
But the strongest bond between our two countries is not between our governments, close though those links are. The strongest bond between India and the UK is here in front of me tonight: it is you, the citizens of the UK and India.
Because the closest and most enduring ties between our countries are those between our people - the deep friendship, trust and affection that exists between the Indians and the British. It is those ties which are the best guarantee of the strong relationship between our two countries.
So tonight let us celebrate the friendship of Britain and India and of the British and the Indians, and look forward to ever closer ties over the coming years.
Enough speechmaking. I mentioned that we are honoured to have with us this evening the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas. As you all know, no Gurkha is ever without his khukri, the famous Gurkha knife with the curved edge and the extremely sharp blade. The Gurkhas have a famous traditional khukri dance and have kindly offered to demonstrate this to you tonight.
So let me invite the Gurkhas to perform that dance, and let me invite all of you to do two things – to watch and to stand well back. Those knives are very sharp.
Thank you all, and enjoy the evening.