Parliamentary colleagues, distinguished members of the British-Indian diaspora, ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Royal Gallery. It is my enormous pleasure now to introduce Narendra Modi, the 15th Prime Minister of India. Today is, and it is special for two reasons. First, this is a first – the first occasion upon which we will hear a speech by a serving Indian Prime Minister in our Parliament. Secondly, it is fitting that it takes place during Diwali, with the resonance which that entails for millions across this country, in India, and indeed throughout the world. What’s more today is New Year’s day. Saal Mubarak. Happy New Year!
The ties between our two countries are so multiple, deep and enduring that frankly they require no elaboration or rehearsal this afternoon. Sceptics sometimes suggest that democracy is all but impossible to create or to maintain in countries of a certain size, degree of diversity or level of economic development. Over the past 68 years, India has proved to be a standing rebuke to such sceptics.
To rout the disbelievers completely, however, democracy has to demonstrate that it can respect free speech and incorporate a true diversity of creeds, faiths and orientations without diminishing or disrespecting any of them. With some 1.3 billion people and a burgeoning young population, India will become the most populous nation on our planet well within the lifetimes of many people here present, and it is destined to become a leader in the world. Put bluntly, India is all our futures.
Preparing for such a prospect is a daunting challenge, to which Prime Minister Modi has devoted great thought and attention. Friends and colleagues, Mr Modi is known in Indian circles as “Mr Tech”. He pioneered the expansion of the internet in Gujarat during his lengthy tenure as Chief Minister there and in the past 18 months in Delhi he has established a Digital India scheme and, indeed, created a network of smart cities. He has an astonishing 12 million followers on Twitter, and he is extremely comfortable communicating with fellow citizens via the medium of Google Hangouts on Android Lollipop. In a spirit of friendly competition, I am sure that our own leaders in all parties will now strive to follow your example, sir. Mr Modi has recently returned from taking Silicon Valley by storm, holding talks with, amongst others, Mr Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. It is reasonable to assume, Prime Minister, that you will find events today in this historic setting something of a contrast.
A contrast is not, however, a contradiction. We welcome you today, not principally to commemorate the past, but rather to herald the present, and to gaze to the future. Prime Minister, thank you for coming. It is my pleasure to invite you to speak to us.