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1991 - Mr Major’s Speech at Unveiling of Bust of Nehru

Below is Mr Major's address to mark the unveiling of the bust of Nehru at India House, on Thursday 14th November 1991.


PRIME MINISTER:

High Commissioner, thank you very much indeed for your very generous introduction. It is a very great honour to be here today. If I may say so, I accept that honour just not on my own behalf but - looking around the room I see some distinguished parliamentarians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords of all the major parties who are here - as the clearest possible indication of the very deep and extensive ties of friendship that exist between this country and India which is so aptly expressed with the presence of so many senior colleagues here today.

It is a remarkable honour to be invited to unveil this bust on the 102nd anniversary of Pandit Nehru's birth. By any reckoning, Nehru was one of the very great men of the century, an architect of independent India, a world statesman who in that role helped lay the foundation of the modern Commonwealth. A patriot, a democrat and a champion of liberty in a way that no one can deny. And especially aptly, if I may mention it, as an Englishman, especially a true and consistent friend of Britain throughout all these years.

Nehru did a very great deal to foster and encourage friendship and co-operation between Britain and India. He laid sound and enduring foundations which we have been able to build on as generations have succeeded. I am delighted at the excellent shape our bilateral relations are in at the present time and I had the very great pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Narasimha-Rao in Harare when we were able to have extensive discussions and it was, I hope, the first of many occasions when I hope to have the opportunity of meeting him and discussing matters of interest to us both.

If I may, High Commissioner, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate publically what I have said to you before privately and it is something I believe also would be a view expressed across all shades of opinion in this country and that is how profoundly shocked we were at the appalling assassination of Rajiv Gandhi earlier this year following particularly upon the earlier assassination, some time ago, of Indira Gandhi. The depth of feeling in this country about that spreads far beyond the large and welcome Indian community who live here and I am delighted to have this opportunity to reiterate again how very sad we felt those events were and how much we felt for India and the Gandhi family at that time.

One of the most remarkable things that have come out of those terrible events is the extent to which they have shown to those people who would challenge democracy, that democracy in India has taken root, is going to be persistent and will not be shaken even by terrorist acts of that sort. So it is perhaps particularly a tribute to the Indian democracy, to which Nehru was so passionately committed, that Indian elections in the summer were held successfully despite this latest appalling tragedy. I offer my congratulations to the Indian politicians and the Indian public on the fact that that was possible.

And let me offer my assurance to you, High Commissioner, that we will continue to work closely with India to defeat the evil of terrorism in every possible way that we can. In so far as we can help with rooting it out you may be certain that we will continue to do that both in this country and with our partners in Europe in the way in which policies develop in the future.

We have High Commissioner, in our country, a community of over 800,000 people of Indian origin. I believe they make an important and enterprising contribution to our national life. I have had some direct experience of that. I think there is no doubt in the minds of everyone who looks at the matter dispassionately that the Indian population in this country have been a very considerable asset to life in this country and if I may say so too High Commissioner they are welcome and I wish them continued prosperity.

It is therefore entirely appropriate that the bust of Nehru, for all he has done, for all he stands for, for all the inspiration he has given in the past, does give today and will I believe give in the future, that his bust should have a prominent place in the heart of London. And I can think of no more appropriate prominent place than here. So it gives me very great pleasure indeed to unveil it as a perpetual memorial of a very great man.