SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF INDIA, SMT. PRATIBHA DEVISINGH PATIL AT THE BANQUET IN HONOUR OF THE KING OF THE BELGIUM, HIS MAJESTY KING ALBERT II
New Delhi, 4th November 2008
Her Majesty Queen Paola,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and people of India, it gives me great pleasure to warmly welcome Your Majesty, Her Majesty Queen Paola, and your delegation to India. We appreciate the special affinity of the Belgian Royal Family towards India. We recall Your Majesty's visit to India twenty-five years ago in 1983 as Crown Prince of Belgium leading a trade delegation; and, of Crown Prince Philippe's visits in 1995, 1998 and 2005. These visits have brought our two countries closer.
India, of course, is no stranger to Belgium. The ties between India and Belgium go back to the year 1723 when traders from Belgium under the flag of the Ostend Company established settlements in East and South India. More than 36,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives for the freedom and independence of Belgium during World War I in the Fields of Flanders in 1914 and 1915; their memory is honoured by Indian participation in ceremonies organized alongside the Armistice Day celebrations in November every year. Our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, visited Belgium in 1926 where he attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels, as an official delegate of the Indian National Congress. Mahatma Gandhi is honoured by a statue installed in Brussels and a road is named after him in Antwerp.
In the contemporary world, there is much that India and Belgium share in common. Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, independent judiciary, free press and protection of human rights are fundamental values to which our two societies are wedded. Indeed, these are the values that also bind the countries of the European Union. In addition, India and Belgium are federal states, which respect and promote the rights and freedom of the various communities, peoples and regions that comprise them. These shared values provide a strong foundation to our ties.
I am happy that our two countries have been expanding and deepening their partnership. Belgium is the third largest trading partner for India within the EU. Our bilateral trade crossed 8 billion Euros in 2007. It is gratifying to know that the Indian community in Belgium is contributing to the Belgian economy through its skills in the diamond industry. It is noteworthy that Indian investment in Belgium has exceeded Belgium investment in India in the recent past. I hope that the Belgian companies will also actively consider taking advantage of the growing Indian economy, and its attraction as a destination for investments.
The visit of Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt to India in November 2006 played a significant role in further deepening and diversifying our relationship. The landmark agreement on Social Security was signed during that visit. Our links in the civil aviation sector have been strengthened and three cities in India are directly linked to Brussels which has now become an international hub for one of our major airlines.
Your Majesty's visit to India comes at a time when India is at the cross roads of history. I hope that what you see and experience this time will give you a glimpse of a new and dynamic India, the boundless energy and creativity of our people, their friendly disposition and their march towards prosperity.
Your Majesty, we are confident that your visit will rejuvenate our relations by opening new vistas of opportunities, particularly in the economic and educational sectors.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, may I request you to join me in a toast:
- to the health of His Majesty King Albert II, the King of the Belgians;
- to the health of Her Majesty Queen Paola, the Queen of the Belgians;
- to the progress and prosperity of the friendly people of Belgium; and
- to friendship and cooperation between India and Belgium.