I have had the honour of being the British High Commissioner in India since November 2011. Before I took up my post, my wife and I spent nearly three months travelling around this great country as private citizens to learn something about the real India. We visited 20 of India’s 28 states.
And one of the most memorable of all the states we visited was this one. We spent some time here in Bhubaneshwar. I visited the Kalinga Institute of Social Science, which provides first class education for 20,000 disadvantaged tribal children and met its visionary founder Dr Samanta. We visited the far west of Odisha, seeing the rural countryside and some of the development projects the UK government supports in the field of healthcare and education. We saw the spectacular beauty of Odisha – perhaps one of the most beautiful of any state I have seen. And we saw the majesty and splendour of Odisha’s cultural heritage in our visit to the Konark Sun Temple, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the wonders of the world.
Since then, Odisha has had a special place in my heart. So it is a great pleasure to be back here again today.
This is a state where things are happening. It’s a state where good governance is delivering real results, and where the huge potential of its natural and human resources is - more and more - being realised.
A while ago, I asked a senior Indian politician what he’d learned from his time in politics. He thought about it, and said: “I’ve concluded that your personal happiness is in direct proportion to your distance from Delhi”. I’ve taken him at his word, and spend as much of my time as possible outside Delhi, in what many people would call the Real India.
In the real India, I see every day examples of world class excellence, in medicine, research, business, education, the creative arts - the unity in diversity of which Nehru spoke, and which is a truly powerful driver of creativity and growth - and finally, in the real India I see something that is probably more important than any of the other things I’ve identified: I see optimism. And that’s especially true here in Odisha.
That’s not to say that Odisha does not face its share of challenges. Most recently, of course, Cyclone Phailin hit the coast in October, bringing terrifying winds and heavy rainfall that wrought extensive damage to homes, crops, power and communication infrastructure. Thanks to excellent disaster preparedness – which, I’m proud to say, the British Government played a part in developing – an astonishing 1 million people were evacuated to safety and the loss of life was remarkably low.
In coping with Cyclone Phailin, the government and people of Odisha have demonstrated clearly the strength of their resolve and of their character, and tonight I want to pay tribute to them and express my sympathy and solidarity with those who lost their lives or livelihoods.
The rebuilding of property and lives will take time. Tomorrow morning I will visit a number of NGOs who are supporting the reconstruction effort to show my support for that effort. I am proud to say that in the immediate aftermath of the cyclone, the British Government was one of the first to provide immediate humanitarian relief, by funding several NGOs engaged in that major task. That funding made a difference: it provided 130, 000 of the most badly affected people with shelter, solar lamps, water treatment and hygiene kits. Now the task is reconstruction, and we are supporting that through the World Bank. The UK is also ready to work with the Odisha authorities to further strengthen emergency preparedness and response in future.
So I want to start by expressing both my confidence in the future of Odisha, and the UK’s readiness to develop a stronger, wider and deeper partnership with this great state.
Secondly, I want to say a word about my own country. We have asked you all to join us this evening to help us celebrate something that we call the GREAT campaign. You’ll see from the material all around you that the message is pretty simple: Britain is GREAT. We are proud of our past and confident of our future. And we want to celebrate the things that make the United Kingdom great.
There are many of them.
Our heritage is GREAT: Stonehenge, our Royal Palaces, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, to name but three iconic examples.
Our culture: you know about our great classical art and literature, but our popular culture is pretty impressive too. In pop music, UK artists account for over 10% of the world’s sales. In film, James Bond and Harry Potter captivate the world. The world’s biggest selling videogame, Grand Theft Auto 5, which I have been known to play myself when in need of some violent therapy, is the product of a British company.
Our sport is GREAT: the English Premier League is the best and most watched football league in the world. Scotland is the home of a game beloved of many Indians, golf (and also, of course, the home of a drink beloved of even more Indians). I hesitate to mention cricket, while the pain of the recent Ashes series against the Australians is still so real. What that 5/0 defeat showed, perhaps, is the truth of what the writer Ashis Nandy so wisely said: that cricket is an Indian game accidentally invented by the British.
UK innovation is GREAT: Things invented by the Brits include world-changing items as diverse as penicillin and the pencil, the jet engine and bungee jumping. Brits invented the telephone, the television, SMS messaging and the World Wide Web. We can also claim evolution, gravity, longitude and the Higgs Boson particle. And, perhaps the most important breakthrough of all for world happiness, sticky toffee pudding.
Our technology is GREAT. India recently hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix: the cutting edge technology in every F1 car which we watched speeding round the track at Noida is almost all British. And your mobile phone almost certainly contains a chip designed by a UK company called ARM based in Cambridge. I know that because 95% of the world’s mobile phones do.
And we are proud of our knowledge: Britain is home to first rank universities, including four of the world’s top ten. Oxford has educated more world leaders than any other university, and Cambridge graduates have won 65 Nobel Prizes, out of the total of 120 Nobel Prizes won by Brits, more than by any other country except the United States.
Now I’m pleased to say that British businesses are GREAT too. And that’s one of the main reasons that I’m here this week, together with my colleagues from our Deputy High Commission in Kolkata.
I have brought with me to Odisha the biggest British trade delegation ever to visit this state: nearly 20 excellent British companies working in infrastructure, energy, minerals, education and skills. Britain is great in each of these areas, and the others represented by each of these companies. Six of them are already doing business in Odisha but would like to do more. The others are looking actively at opportunities here and we’ve brought them along this week to take a closer look. I know they have a huge amount to offer Odisha and India, and I know you will make them welcome.
I know from my previous visits here that the people of Odisha are fiercely proud of their rich history. And rightly so. The cultural and religious heritage of this state is extraordinary. So is its recent economic growth and social progress. But I’m clear that Odisha’s future can be even brighter than its past. And it’s a future that we in Britain want to be a part of. So my message tonight is simple. Britain is GREAT. And so is Odisha. Together we can be greater still.