Significance of the Diwali
Pleasure to attend Diwali Banquet. The Festival is one to which I always look forward as a joyous and colourful occasion, a time to renew friendships.
Welcome to new Indian High Commissioner
Particular pleasure to welcome the new Indian High Commissioner, Mr. Ragostra, and his wife. One of India's wisest and most experienced [end p1] diplomats. We were very honoured when Mr. Gandhi decided to send him to Britain. We wish him every possible success in his mission here.
Work of the Bhavan
A very special year because it is the Golden Jubilee of the Bhavan. A Golden Jubilee is quite something: I am [end p2] still working on it! The Bhavan has played an outstanding role over fifty years in promoting understanding and harmony in this country. Pay tribute to its remarkable work. Particularly remember the marvellous Festival of India which was arranged when the late Mrs. Gandhi came to Britain in 1982. It showed the great variety of India's artistic achievements. [end p3] It helped people appreciate the extraordinary richness and diversity of India's art and culture.
Inter-play of Britain and India
Both countries have had a profound effect on each other. It starts from our shared devotion to the ideals of liberty and democracy. Britain is the world's oldest democracy, India [end p4] the world's largest. We admire the way in which India tackles the enormous problems of population, of food, of agriculture, which it faces. It does not dragoon or regiment people in the way that Communist societies do. It always works with the grain of human nature, building on people's desire to improve their lot and that of their families. India's success is the most striking evidence [end p5] in the world that freedom and democracy work.
We also share the quality of tolerance that goes with being a society which accommodates many differing traditions and styles of life.
We also share a more bitter experience. We have both suffered from terrorism. Those who in a democracy pursue their ends by violence are letting the whole world know that [end p6] they have no respect for the lives of the innocent. Nor indeed for human life at all. They want their own way by crushing the will, the rights and the lives of others. They are the enemies of everything we hold dear. Now more than ever we need to recall the lesson of India, that peaceful pursuit of a noble cause can inspire the greatest change. [end p7]
But it is not only India's practical achievements which influence us. It is also that special quality of gentleness and serenity that has nothing to do with material possessions. It comes from faith and belief. It is when people have nothing to believe in, nothing to which they can dedicate their lives, that they turn to materialism. [end p8] I always thought that was particularly well put by the poetess Mahadevi Varma, now alas no longer with us—and to whom I once presented a prize—in her poem TO THE FAR BANK:
“Take the boat to mid-stream.
Though it sink, you shall get across.
Let dedication be your only helmsman.
He will see you through.”[end p9] These lessons are particularly important at the time of the Diwali, the Festival of Lights. It is one of those great religious occasions which bear witness to the power of goodness in the world. It symbolises the path from ignorance to knowledge by the movement from darkness to light. [end p10] Knowledge comes in many ways. From education of course. But also from observation, from reflection, from experience, from respecting the rights and different views of others.
But knowledge alone is not enough. It is knowledge which leads to action, action to improve the standard of living, to spur us to successful enterprise. [end p11] To help others less fortunate than ourselves.
Indian Community in Britain
All these are the reasons why we so much welcome the resourceful Indian community here in Britain. You have brought the virtues of family, of hard work and of resolve to make a better life. Children are encouraged, grandparents cherished, family links preserved. [end p12] And in countless firms and shops up and down the country, you are displaying splendid qualities of enterprise and initiative which benefit not just you and your families, but the Indian community and indeed the nation as a whole. With it goes a generosity and a willingness to contribute to good causes, which has played a very important part in encouraging others to give. [end p13] I know that Diwali is a time to pray to the Goddess Lakshmi Puja for prosperity and success. The Indian Community has enjoyed great success through its own efforts. Tonight I join in wishing you further success and prosperity and thank you for what you do for Britain.