Your Excellency, honourable ministers, ladies and gentlemen, thank you all for joining us this evening to celebrate the official birthday of Her Majesty The Queen. Your Excellency, we are both grateful and delighted to have you with us tonight. You have been a consistent strong supporter of our efforts, both before and since we established our office, and I have been fortunate to share a platform with you on several occasions. But tonight is particularly special and I am especially grateful to you and your good lady for sparing your valuable to join us and illuminate the occasion.
Traditionally during national days, people in my position will give a long and detailed speech describing all that has happened in the previous year. However, I’m not planning to do so tonight. I would prefer to share with you some highlights of our enduring relationship and to then make way for His Excellency the governor to say a few words.
Some of you will be wondering what tonight is all about. Traditionally national days celebrate Independence, Liberation, a Constitution or a Revolution. But in the UK we do things a bit differently. Our last successful invaders were the Normans in 1066, we don’t have a written Constitution and we don’t tend to talk much about our short-lived revolution in 1688. So how do we celebrate our Britishness?
The most enduring image of the UK today is our monarch, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second. On 9 September this year Her Majesty will become the longest ever royal head of state 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 raise a toast to her, and wish Her Majesty many more years in office.
What we are actually celebrating is the Queen’s Official Birthday, which commemorates her ascension to the throne. In Britain we celebrate on the first or second Saturday in June, when in theory the weather is good. Overseas we are a bit more flexible and in India we celebrate earlier in the year, when the weather is more forgiving – albeit that we are tonight shielded from it, inside this wonderful hotel.
For those who are interested, the Queen’s actual birthday is 21 April; she acceded to the throne 63 years ago in February 1952 at the tender age of 25.
Tonight is an occasion to reflect on the close ties between the UK and India. It is a partnership that is set to become even more important as we continue to work together for the mutual prosperity and security of both our countries.
Our two countries are longstanding partners and have a long history. But our connections are as much about the present and the future - the one million people with close ties to India living in Britain today and the hundreds of thousands of our citizens who travel back and forth each year to work, study or, simply for enjoyment.
As with any strong relationship, it’s not just about looking back but forward too. 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 offer 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.
We are taking the lead from our Prime Minister who has put India at the top of his agenda - because we know that the 21st century will be shaped by India. India is indeed a top priority for us, since the UK is the largest G20 investor in India, investing more than either the US or Japan. The UK is now the 3rd largest investor in India and India is now the 5th largest investor in the UK.
From a personal perspective, this is a proud moment for me, as Deputy High Commissioner in Hyderabad. I arrived, just over 20 months ago, to inherit one of our newest posts in what is now our largest diplomatic network anywhere in the world. Since then, I feel that we have planted roots, and been absorbed into the daily life of the city. I attribute this to the warmth of welcome that you have all shown to me and my wife, Sang Hee, and I thank you sincerely for it.
Looking a little further ahead, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Business sentiment is on the up and, with the UK economy strengthening, we expect a resurgence of UK business interest in India. And if they are coming to India, where better to come than here?
It is no fluke that we opened a British Deputy High Commission here, in the first place. It is not only a beautiful part of the country. But it is GREAT for business – as we all know, some of world’s most successful companies agree.
Our office here in Hyderabad is home to not just the British Deputy High Commission. We are also now co-located with Scottish Development International, who have established a permanent presence here too, to take forward the growing interest of the Scottish Government, business and people in this city and the important states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. This is an exciting development, which adds further to our combined commitment to this region.
We’re here because there is a natural fit and because we have complementary strengths. Britain has many of the things that India needs.
We have certification and accreditation for vocational skills, helping to channel the potential of India’s youth. We have world-class design and technology. We have world-class expertise in energy and infrastructure. We have some of the world’s premiere education establishments - I don’t need to name them.
We both have GREAT sport and culture, irrespective of the relative recent success of our national teams and champions.
We have a long and deep association that goes beyond a simple transactional relationship.
And, just when India is shining brightly in the global spotlight, it seems like a good time for the UK to honour one of her most revered and influential sons. I refer, of course, to Mahatma Gandhi, and to the forthcoming unveiling of his statue, on Saturday 14 March, in London’s Parliament Square. He is the first Indian, and indeed the only person, honoured with a statue in the Square who never held public office.
His approach of non-violence will resonate forever as a positive legacy – not just for the UK and India, but the world over. He was a man of great insight and wisdom, who inspired millions with his vision. So much of what he said then rings true today. We would all do well to reflect on his wisdom once in a while: ‘Hate the sin, love the sinner’; ‘The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong’.
The statue not only recognises his huge importance in the history of both our countries, but will enrich the firm bond of friendship between the world’s oldest democracy and its largest.
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.
I’d like to conclude by thanking everybody who has joined us tonight, and a long list of partners and associates who have helped us to deliver this event. I’m sorry that I’m not able to list all of you now but I should give special mention to Triumph Motorcycles, Pavers England, Vodafone, Wilmax and, of course, The Trident Hotel. For the rest, you know who you are and you have our warm thanks. We look forward to continuing our work with you to strengthen further our partnerships here in Hyderabad and beyond.
Finally, let me end by inviting our good friend, the honourable governor, to come up and say a few words.
Thank you for listening and enjoy the rest of the evening.