President Pratibha Patil’s state visit to the UK will be a glimpse of India’s journey into an emotional past, and exuberance of a heady future.
On October 28, the President, who arrived here on Monday, will be handed back Mahatma Gandhi’s memorabilia, including his letters and a piece of khadi woven by him. A day later, Queen Elizabeth will pass on to Patil the baton for the Commonwealth Games that New Delhi hosts in October next.
Of the two, it’s the Gandhi memorabilia that particularly excites the President. “The receiving of Gandhiji’s memorabilia excites me,’’ she told mediapersons on abroad a special aircraft to London, the first stop in her two-nation state visits to the UK and Cyprus.
But if the government has any plans about where to house them, it wasn’t known.
“We will keep them with utmost respect… It will be decided where to keep them,’’ she said to one of the four questions she took.
Accompanied by her husband Devi Singh Shekhawat and her granddaughter during this trip, Patil’s is the first visit by an Indian president to the UK in two decades.
But when she goes for a ceremonial reception to the Windsor Castle on Tuesday — when the visit gets underway officially — she will be meeting Queen Elizabeth II for the second time. Patil met the Queen in the late eighties as the deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha.
A lot has changed since then.
Patil will be the first non-royal to stay at the Castle. And a day later, at a grand function in Buckingham Palace, she will receive the Commonwealth baton from the Queen.
Patil wants to take India-UK relations to a new level since the two countries entered into a strategic partnership in 2004.
Based on the opportunities that India provides, these would cover areas like infrastructure, healthcare, green technology and renewable energy sectors.
For UK, India matters.
Bilateral trade has shot up to a record £ 12.6 billion in 2008 and is set to rise further. The presence and influence of a large Indian diaspora (1.5 million) — illustrated in the presence of 20 Indian origin members in the House of Lords, six in the House of Commons and over 100 councillors in various boroughs — will play a crucial role.
Many of them will be present during Patil’s engagements over the next three days. Besides official functions and meetings, there will be interactions with the Indian community and businessmen before she leaves for Cyprus on October 29.