International Affairs

The Rt. Hon'ble Romeo LeBlanc,
Governor General of Canada,
Madame Diana Fowler LeBlanc,

Distinguished Guests,

It gives me great pleasure, on behalf of the Government and people of India to welcome Your Excellency and Madame LeBlanc on your State visit to India. Your visit to India, the first ever of a Canadian Governor General, happily coincides with the 50th anniversary of India's independence. It is, therefore with a sense of double satisfaction that I welcome you and your distinguished delegation in our midst.

The leaders of our Freedom Struggle, especially Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, were keenly aware that our freedom struggle was part of the movement for the liberation of mankind and that India's independence held significance for the wider world. It is, therefore, satisfying for us that this Golden Jubilee has generated enthusiastic responses in many countries across the world, including Canada. Excellency, your presence here at this significant landmark of our history is a reaffirmation of the goodwill that the Government and people of Canada have for India.

Excellency, India's independence fifty years ago led to a chain of events which transformed the political landscape of the world. It heralded the end of the colonial era and the entry of the developing world into the international mainstream. One of the international institutions that adapted first to this change was the Commonwealth. It was India's decision to become a Republic and her desire to remain in the Commonwealth that gave birth to the new Commonwealth. As the distinguished former High Commissioner of Canada to India Mr. Escott Reid, had said India was "the keystone of the arch of the new Commonwealth". Indeed, Canada played a crucial role in this historic transformation of the Commonwealth, thanks to the vision and wisdom of statesmen such as Louis St. Laurent and Lester Pearson.

Our co-operation in the Commonwealth has been a harbinger of our growing cooperation on the wider international stage. Through a number of conflict situations and the tensions of the Cold War, India and Canada in their respective ways, have represented the voice of moderation and reconciliation in the world. At the same time, Canada has made a generous and imaginative contribution to India's social and economic development. We acknowledge with sincere appreciation, the impact of Canada's participation in the economic development of India. As a close associate of Prime Minister Lester Pearson and Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, you have personally been a witness to this remarkable evolution of our political and economic relationship, sharing ideas and beliefs, despite our very different circumstances and geographical situations.

I recall the highly successful visit of Prime Minister Chretien to India in 1996 with "Team Canada" and the impetus that it gave to India-Canada relations. That visit had resulted in mutually rewarding ventures in the economic sector and the process is still continuing. I am confident, Excellency, that your visit will lead to a further intensification of our economic and political interactions.

I am happy to welcome the distinguished members of your delegation -- Ministers, Members of Parliament, writers, artistes and officials. I may be permitted to say a special word of welcome to your Minister of National Revenue who has the singular achievement of being the first Canadian of Indian origin to become a federal Canadian Minister. May I also welcome Mr. Deepak Obhrai, Member of Parliament, another distinguished Canadian of Indian origin. Indeed the achievements of the half a million people of Indian origin to whom Canada has now become home are of great significance to India and Indo-Canadian relations. Canadians of Indian origin have made important contributions in all walks of Canadian life, from politics and industry to academics and the professions.

Excellency, addressing a Joint Session of the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa in 1949, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said: "... in the world of today, neither you nor we can afford to be purely national or even continental in our outlook; the world has become too small for that". Fifty years after those prescient words were spoken, they remain truer than ever. Today, when international peace and cooperation are acquiring new dimensions, the need for Indo-Canadian cooperation for ensuring a better, more peaceful world assumes greater significance.

India is a country that has historically been a link between the East and the West. We are connected geo-politically and in a deep cultural sense with the countries of Western Asia as well as with South East Asia, East Asia and the Pacific region, and we have been involved in the promotion of freedom and peace in these regions prior to as well as subsequent to our independence. We were privileged to work together with Canada in peace-keeping missions of crucial importance in some of these countries. We believe, as Canada does, in the central role of the United Nations in the world. It has been our endeavour to make the UN more democratic, more representative and more effective by reflecting the present realities and the aroused aspirations of the vast majority of its membership.

Excellency, we have just concluded what has been described as the world's largest election involving an electorate of 600 million people. In both our countries, parliamentary democracy represents not just the polity of the country but the faith that our people place in the values of democracy, individual rights, and the rule of law. We derive strength from the diversity of our population, our languages, cultures and religion. A facet of this has been vividly described by the award-winning novelist of Indian origin, Rohinton Mistry, who is now a Canadian national. I am delighted that another distinguished Canadian novelist of Indian origin Mr. M.G. Vasanji is also a member of the delegation.

Parliamentary democracy in India is perhaps a unique phenomenon, not only on account of its scale and magnitude, but of the complexity of the society and the stage of economic development in which it has been functioning. It is an enormous process and in this exciting task we are happy that we have the goodwill and understanding of Canada with whom we share democratic values and co-operate in the spirit of sincere friendship.

In this context, Excellency, your visit to India, is no ordinary visit. It is a renewal and reaffirmation of our past ties. I have no doubt that you will find in India a partner that believes that India-Canada relations will become stronger, more resilient and more multifaceted in the years ahead.

Your well-known poet Oliver Goldsmith, a grand nephew of the celebrated Irish English poet of the same name, has sung of Canada thus :-

"So may thy years increase, thy glories rise,
To be the wonder of the Western skies."

May I repeat the same wish from the soil of an ancient land reputed to be the wonder of the East.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, may I request you to raise your glasses in a toast to:
- the health of His Excellency, the Right Honourable Romeo LeBlanc and Madame LeBlanc and
- friendship and co-operation between our countries.

Thank you

Jai Hind