Queen Elizabeth II unexpectedly brought up the subject of the November last Mumbai terror attacks at the banquet she hosted for President Pratibha Patil on Tuesday.
The Queen described the attacks as “appalling” and commended India for showing courage in the face of this great tragedy. “I would like to pay tribute to the courage and steadfastness shown by the Indian security forces and people in the face of this great tragedy.”
The Queen’s banquets are usually very formal and officious in keeping with her position as a ceremonial head.
On Tuesday night, both sides went through the drill. Ms. Patil spoke of “commonalities and shared experiences” that have “helped us understand each other’s vision and concerns.”
The Queen, in turn, sung hosannas to the “long shared history between Britain and India” and the “warmth and hospitality of the Indian people.”
But alongside, there was also recognition that contemporary India had gone beyond the British Raj and was confronting the political and geo-strategic realities of the new millennium on its own strength. Indeed, competing with the old shibboleths were new ones, now considered mandatory when an Indian dignitary visits abroad.
Thus the Queen spoke of the new strategic partnership between the two countries “founded on the sure knowledge that India’s emergence on the world stage would be one of the main forces shaping 21st century.”
The Queen’s speech acknowledged the expanding scope liberalising India offered for cooperation especially in education.
“The first group of Manmohan Singh scholars has just arrived to begin their studies at Cambridge University. In the future we hope that many more British students will go to study in Indian universities, making this a genuinely two-way exchange of learning.”
The Queen’s banquet for the President stretched one hour beyond the allotted time, which palace sources said indicated her special interest in her guest.
They also said extraordinary care went into the selection of Indian origin royal items on display for the benefit of Ms. Patil and her husband Devisingh Shekhawat.
Among the memorabilia were selections from the Padshahnama constituting the official record of part of the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan (The folio showed a 15-year old Prince Aurangazeb confronting a rogue elephant on the riverbank in Agra in 1633); the Hindustani Diary of Queen Victoria; a shawl spun by the Mahatma and given over as a gift at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip; the banquet speech by President Rajendra Prasad during the Queen’s first visit to India in 1961; the invitation on carved wood sent by President Prasad to Queen inviting her to pay the first visit; and the exchange of letters pertaining to the establishment of the Indian Republic.