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December 2003 - January 2004


Building Bridges Between Two Great Nations

by Krishan Ralleigh

We adorn our cover page, unashamedly once again, with the theatrical picture of Toni Blair with red 'tika' on his forehead, flanked by two young Indian girls, as a gesture of affinity and concurrence with the significance of the great Indian festival of Diwali, the Festival of Lights. No less significant is the wording of his message on the eve of Diwali to Indians living in Britain.

Many Indians who migrated to this country from India & East Africa could not have believed if some astrologer had told them that in another 30 years or so, a British Prime Minister would not only practise in his own life the basic philosophy of Indian scriptures; but support the Indian symbol of purity of mind on his forehead. To fight for a righteous cause is central to 'Bhagvad Gita'. To appreciate all religions equally is also the basic tenet of Indian way of life. A multi-cultural and multi-religious State is bound to be more democratic by definition than a single-religion or a mono-cultural state; for equal human rights for the minority communities is the true test of a democratic state.

To earn that right of equality, the minorities also have certain duties. Primarily, they have to participate in the democratic process. They have to be a part of the community that sustains them; and to whom they have certain obligations. In recent years, member of Indian community residing in the United Kingdom have been significantly more enthusiastic in participating in democratic institutions, although not to the extent Indians in the United States have participated and achieved success.

There are several reasons for this sluggish start in Britain. The colonial hangover has not yet been fully abandoned by the British Establishment. The chink of light is visible in some corners; but the real change of heart and minds is still not visible. For this reason the gesture of the Prime Minister on the eve of Diwali is so crucial. An additional 'Bank Holiday' on Diwali Day would be a step in the right direction to appreciate and recognise a large community who contribute tremendously to the British culture, politics and economy.

The recent visit of the Prince of Wales to India and the reaction of the British Media, especially the young journalists who are filing reports about his recent visits to the homes of 'Maharajas, the Low caste and the destitute of India' are sufficient evidence of the post-colonial hangover with which some of these journalists still suffer. The Maharajahs have gone for good, in India at least, thanks to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Indira Gandhi. The so-called low castes are more in the imagination of the western intelligentsia than Indian political establishment. The largest State of India, Uttar Pradesh was ruled by a so-called low caste and that also a woman. Until recently, the President of India was also a so-called low caste. The President of India today is from a minority community.

No doubt there is still poverty, ignorance and intolerance of the poor. Ignorance can only be eradicated by conscious efforts of those who claim to be educated and rich. The slogan'Bring back Maharajahs' is going back to autocracy and feudalism. India's future lies in basic education and economic freedom for all.This is what the British Prime Minister is hoping for by having more friendly relations with India and by attempting to understan the cultural and religious ethos of this ancient civilisation that inhabits the land they call INDIA

The visit of the Prince of Wales to India was not a nostalgic journey to the land, which was once ruled by his parents and grandparent. Catherine Philip, the Times journalist in India, rather than listening to redundant royals of India, (The Times 28 October 'India's maharajahs demand their palaces back') should have tried to understand the real significance of the Prince of Wales' visit to India. To him it was much more of a personal spiritual fulfilment, which he may have found among the downtrodden in India. Moreover, who can blame him? The vultures of the British Media were already preparing to pounce upon his integrity and honesty which he searches for peace within. I am sure, the great Indian poet who also happens to be the Prime Minister of the country must have recited some shlokas from the Upanishads and explained the profound meaning to the Prince. Building of bridges between the two nations is a righteous cause. It is also an important tenet of Indian philosophy of peace and co-operation.

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