Underlining India’s emergence as “a force for good in the world,” Britain has pitched for stronger multi-faceted partnership between the two countries and honoured the over million Indian soldiers who fought in World War I.
The atmosphere at the British high commissioner’s residence was solemn as well as celebratory as British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and India’s Defence Minister Arun Jaitley recalled the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers that helped Britain and the allied forces win the 1914-1919 war.
Music and memories flowed to fete the Indian soldiers as the bands of Royal Air Force and Indian Air Force performed on the lawns of the high commissioner’s residence on October 30. Singer Kavita Krishnamurthy Subramaniam, and violinist L. Subramanian were among those who performed at the event.
Mr Fallon handed over a digitised version of the war diaries and memorials of six Victoria Crosses won by Indian soldiers to Mr Jaitley and the colonels of Indian regiments, which will be sent to the soldiers’ native villages. A battlefield guide book and coffee table book “India and the First World War” were also unveiled at the function.
Mr Jaitely thanked his British counterpart for visiting India to honour the Indian soldiers’ sterling contribution to World War I. “Gratitude is a political virtue. Ingratitude is a political sin,” said Mr Jaitley.
Indian soldiers shone with their valour and daring in every theatre of World War I, earning over 9,000 decorations including six Victoria Cross. “Their courage was remarkable in that it was entirely voluntary and not a single Indian soldier was conscripted,” said Mr Fallon.
“Those who signed up, British or Indian, believed in essential values which hold true today,” Fallon said. Such values and heroism needs to be memorialised and archived, said the British defence secretary. The function has been held “to show that we must not and will not ever forget the enormous service rendered by Indian heroes,” he said.
On a personal note, Mr Fallon reminisced that the function meant a great deal to him personally as his grandfather had sailed from Mumbai to Mesopotamia during the war with a contingent of Indian soldiers.
More than 70,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives in the war.
Fittingly, India’s defence minister unveiled the government’s plan to prepare a structured history of all the wars that the Indian Army has fought and instructed Army chief Gen. Dalbir to begin preparations for this exercise.
Mr Jaitley underlined the need to have a structured history of the contribution of Indian soldiers, both in book and the digital format. “That is something which has been missing. I’ve just requested the army chief,” he announced.
‘Together in Uncertain World’
Mr Fallon also pitched for bolstering the India-Britain partnership and defence ties. “We want to see the friendship grow from strength to strength,” he said at a separate commemorative speech at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank with close ties to the ruling dispensation.
“A century ago, our two countries stood together to help make the world a better place, that partnership is just as strong today and there has never been a better time to work together,” he said in a speech entitled, “The UK and India – Together in an Uncertain World.”
Hoping for stronger multi-pronged relations under the Narendra Modi government, he underlined that both countries have lately “discovered a spring in our steps”. The British defence secretary stressed that Britain “believes that India is a force for good in the world” and by being the world’s largest democracy it “helps make the world a better place”.
Reiterating Britain’s support for India’s bid for a permanent seat in an expanded UN Security Council, he said that “a more India is active on the world stage it is better for the whole world”.
Mr Fallon and his Indian counterpart discussed an entire gamut of issues to boost defence ties and regional and global issues, including the unfolding transition process in Afghanistan and the rise of virulent terror groups like The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Against this backdrop of emerging threats, Mr Fallon stressed that the U.K. was ready to “work with India to tackle” such terror in a shared commitment to maintaining peace. “Our two countries are ready to fight for our values and security of our peoples,” he said.
The robust partnership between India and Britain is set to get a renewed momentum with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expected visit to London next year.
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