30 Years
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Delighted to be here. Passion for sub-continent.

Should first congratulate Asia House on the conception and organisation of an event on this scale. Reflects the historical importance of the anniversary which we celebrate this evening, and indeed promises to capture, with the pageantry we have seen and the music and dancing which are to follow, something of the spirit of the continent whose anniversary it is.

Want too to thank Asia House for donating part of this evening's proceeds to the Asian Community Initiative of my Prince's Youth Business Trust. Proud that this has played a modest but worthwhile part in stimulating Asian business success in this country. It. helped about 140 young Asians set up in business last year, and has made more than 20 grants so far this financial year. Your generosity tonight will help it to do more. Thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, this evening we celebrate half a century of political independence on the Indian sub­continent, the fiftieth anniversary of the departure of the British administration. It is a historic anniversary. But if this were all, I wonder whether we wou1d have seen so many such celebrations in Britain this year, and whether those of us here who are British would have joined in so enthusiastically.

I suspect that many of you are, like me, celebrating rather more than this. The fact, for example, that independence did not mean a gradual drifting apart, or the breaking of a strong bond forged over more than two hundred years. The fact that Britain and the four nations represented here tonight have given, and continue to give, each other so much.

Speaking in Karachi on 14 August 1947 my great uncle, Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, spoke of “a parting between friends, who have learned to honour and respect one another, even in disagreement”. He added: “it is not an absolute parting, I rejoice to think, nor an end of comradeship.”

The last fifty years have shown the truth of these prescient words. What I want to try to do this evening is to say a word about this continuing comradeship, and about what India - and I hope that the Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans here will forgive me if I use this traditional way of describing the entire area - what it means to me. The Indian sub-continent has a very special place in my heart. Why?

Even a cursory glance round this hall provides part of the answer. The Indian sub-continent has a unique energy, colour and diversity, demonstrated by this evening's music, ceremony and dancing, by people of different faiths and cultures coming together and celebrating in this wonderful way.

This gathering is also eloquent testimony to the success of British Asians, in business and public life. I do not imagine that it would have been possible in this form a generation or two ago. Nor, indeed, would a reception I gave a month ago for three hundred British Asians - a small proportion of the full number - active in the voluntary sector at a local level all over this country. The scope and professionalism of their activities brought vividly home to me how well­ established their communities now are.

This evening is evidence too of the closeness of the relationship between Britain and the peoples of the Indian sub-continent. The Aga Khan and the High Commissioners of four independent states are present this evening not just as representatives of foreign powers or communities. You, gentlemen, have a role which goes well beyond this into the heart of our national life. I welcome this.

In the same way, Britons of South Asian origin are irreplaceable ambassadors for this country to their places of origin - maintaining an organic relationship with them to which I, at least, attach the highest importance. These ties well illustrate the Indian aphorism: “frontiers cannot divide humanity for those who have the generosity of the spirit to see the world as one family”.

More than any other part of our former Empire, India has left its mark on the British. Lord Mountbatten observed fifty years ago that “during the centuries that the British and Indians have known one another, the British mode of life, customs, speech and thought have been profoundly influenced by those of India - more profoundly than has often been realised.” He cited the influence of the conduct and ideas of the great Emperor, Akbar; an example by which, he believed, generations of British public administrators had been influenced.

What has perhaps changed over the last fifty years is the extent to which your influence makes itself felt, and is visible, here in Great Britain. You have altered our urban landscape and habits - through countless small businesses serving the needs not just of particular minorities but of whole communities and now too through the very visible presence of your mosques and temples.

You have enriched our language. I can happily live without juggernauts and pundits, much as I admire both in their Indian context. But I enjoy the words and wonder how many of our television commentators, for example, are aware of their link back to the days of the Great Game.

India has had an extraordinary impact, too, on the popular imagination here. On the one hand, books as different as A Passage to India and The Jungle Book are quintessentially English, in spite of their exotic locations. On the other, the British reading public seems now to have an insatiable hunger for the works of your own writers.

Maybe this has something to do with what I happen to believe is the most important aspect of India for us in the West today - its spiritual dimension. People of my faith can only admire and envy the extent to which things of the spirit remain at the centre of Indian life, whether here or in the sub-continent.

I still have vivid memories of a visit I paid to the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, a noble addition to the landscape of London, certainly, but also a visible sign – like the great cathedrals of Europe – of the extraordinary spirit of its creators.

India has given the world a good number of its great religions, and nurtured others: the Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Muslim, and indeed, Christian. (If I have omitted any, please forgive me).

When I think of what defines India, I think particularly of those Vedic and Hindu principles which go back to the beginnings of civilized life. The centrality of peace, harmony patience, tolerance and right conduct – what you call dharma – truth and the importance of the spirit permeating all of God’s creation.

So for me, at least, Indian civilization reminds us of vital truths which we in the West acknowledge but perhaps see less clearly today – a sense of the sacred and of the wholeness of life. Looking forward I pray that we in the West will recognise more clearly just how much India can teach us in this area.

I am proud of much that Britain helped give India – for example the physical infrastructure created by pioneering 19th century engineers, independent judiciaries, and some of the best elements of traditional Western education. The remarkable part of Britain’s legacy in the sub-continent is that its countries were able to absorb such things from us without losing their own identities.

As we celebrate past achievements, we should also look to the future. If I have a wish for South Asia for the next fifty years, it is that you succeed in continuing successfully to discriminate in your adoption of ideas and beliefs from other parts of our increasingly homogenous global society.

For the Indian sub-continent to cherish its own traditional, deep-rooted sense of the world is, I am sure, the best way to win the peace and prosperity, health and happiness which at such a celebration it is my duty and honour to wish India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

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