Céad billiún fáilte
In the Irish language, we bid visitors ‘céad míle fáilte’ — one hundred thousand welcomes. However, when greeting representatives of the 1.2 billion people of India, to the Global India summit in City Hall on Sunday evening, I felt that perhaps that phrase was not generous enough. So instead, adjusting for demographic inflation, I offered the delegates céad billiún fáilte — one hundred billion welcomes.
With 18 per cent of the world’s population, Indian is among the emerging BRIC economies changing the face of the world, as Anand Sharma, Commerce Minister of India reminded us when he addressed the conference in City Hall on Sunday night.
He also referred to the human connections between us all when he asked for a minute’s silence for the pilgrims who perished in the fierce floods battering northern India.
There are many historic connections which bind us to India, not least our colonial experience.
In that respect, I have my own connection to India: my great-grandfather John McManus served there with the British Army. I joked with our visitors that while I had mixed emotions about that part of my heritage, I’m sure they had mixed emotions about that connection too!
Many Irish teachers were pioneers in Indian education in the 20th century. Indeed, some of the Christian Brothers who taught me were proud of the schools their order had founded in India also. And a few alumni of the CBs were in our audience, including Rashid Kidwai who set up the mammoth Indian NGO Grassroots Trading Network for Women while his wife, and HSBC board member for India Naina Lal Kidwai, recalls with some affection her education by the Loretto nuns.
However, I referenced the past only to use it as a foundation for the future relationships, partnerships and friendships which we wish to build with our guests at the Global India conference. Those future bridges between our peoples will be in technology, in business, in tourism, in further education, and of course through the Indian community of Belfast.
And as we bid our friends goodbye on Tuesday — still mesmerised by the almost surreal circumstance which brings the leaders of the biggest democracy in the world to our city to discuss their future — we also gave a nod to the 10,000 years of civilization which lies beneath modern-day Indian society.
In particular, we pay thanks for the gift of peacemaking and non-violent change which India, through Mahatma Ghandi, gifted to the world. Belfast is a city transformed by the peace of recent years. Today it is a city of boundless possibility and of enormous potential. It is a city where our people have taken to heart the famous advice of Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”