Indian-heritage parliamentarians in UK pay tribute to queen’s reign

LONDON: Indian heritage MPs and peers have spoken about how Queen Elizabeth II, who died on September 8, “acknowledged past mistakes” and how the modern Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the British Empire.
During tributes to the queen in the House of Lords, Baroness Prashar praised her political skills for helping to create the modern Commonwealth. “Her Majesty was far ahead of her time when, in 1953, she articulated a forward-looking vision of the Commonwealth and said: ‘The Commonwealth bears no resemblance to the empires of the past. It is entirely a new conception, built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace.’ Seven decades on some people still do not comprehend that new conception of the Commonwealth,” she said.
Lord Loomba, born in Dhilwan, Punjab, said the “greatness of Queen Elizabeth II lay not in harking back to the days of empire or in asserting dominance over others, but in the service and humility that characterised her reign and opened the door to new beginnings”. He pointed out that whilst she had, like him, been born into a world where the British monarch was Emperor of India, “it fell to her … to embody that transition to a post-imperial world. The transition has been different for every country, but it was the queen’s unfailing spirit of service and humility that allowed even the most painful of memories not to stand in the way of forging a new relationship,” he said. He also recalled how in 1997, 50 years after India gained independence, King Charles III, then the Prince of Wales, quoted the Vedas and expressed his thanks to India for its civilising influence on Britain. “It was a moment that symbolised the transformation that had taken place from imperial power and subject nation to the familial ties of equals,” he said.
Paying tribute to the queen in the House of Commons, Labour MP Valerie Vaz, born in Aden, Yemen, to Goan parents, said: “Our queen embraced different countries and cultures through the Commonwealth, always respecting differences, dealing with changes, and acknowledging past mistakes, knowing that life and history move on.”
These remarks came as some people in India have criticised the queen, blaming her for atrocities of the British Empire and not returning the Kohinoor diamond.
In their tributes, Indian-origin parliamentarians spoke of how they or their parents had moved to the UK from Commonwealth countries and the queen ensured their integration in Britain. They described her as a Queen to all faiths and ethnicities, recounting visits she made to mosques and gurdwaras. After visiting a mosque in Scunthrope, she gladly received a copy of the Quran in English translation, which is kept in the royal archives at Windsor Castle, Lord Sheikh said.
Lord Singh of Wimbledon recalled the queen’s first visit to a gurdwara in Leicester. “It is a measure of the high esteem in which she was held by the Sikh community that, in that small gurdwara, after the visit we needed a large truck to take away the many bouquets and posies of flowers,” he said.
Lord Popat recalled his shock at being asked to serve in the royal household despite being a refugee from Uganda. “She took a keen interest in we Ugandan Asians who emigrated to this country in the 1970s, most of whom were already her subjects,” Lord Popat said.
“Her Majesty articulated the highest level of diplomacy when responding to Idi Amin’s invitation to visit Uganda in 1972. Despite knowing his dictatorship, she deliberately signed her letter to Amin from ‘Your good friend, Elizabeth R’. She did so because she knew that British lives could be at risk if Amin thought he was being snubbed. Had it not been for her conscious efforts, thousands like me would not be here today,” he said.
Lord Gadhia recalled an event at Buckingham Palace to mark the UK-India year of culture when the queen placed a wedding gift from Mahatma Gandhi on display. “It was a piece of cloth, woven from yarn spun by Gandhi himself, including the words ‘Jai Hind’,” he said. “It was palpable how connected the queen felt to India,” Gadhia added. “I know that our new monarch shares the same priorities as his mother for the Commonwealth.”
Whilst Prashar quoted from Rabindranath Tagore in her tribute, Baroness Verma ended her tribute saying “Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.”

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