Windsor: Drawing a parallel between the traditions of diversity and democracy embraced by India and Britain, President Pratibha Patil Tuesday described the two countries as "natural partners" who are set to shape the course of the 21st century.
"Our bilateral relations have been, for some time now, perhaps better than they have ever been before - we are conscious of the need to continuously nurture it," the president told a gathering of some 150 guests at a state banquet hosted in her honour by Queen Elizabeth II, Britain`s reigning monarch, in Windsor Castle.
"India and the UK are natural partners with an impressive array of complementarities," Patil said, adding the two countries had much in common, their capital cities representing a "microcosm of the world with people of different religions and races living together."
"Our countries are forward-looking, adapting to the challenges and trying to shape the outcome of the 21st century," she said.
Patil spoke to a glittering gathering that included, besides the Queen and her husband Prince Philip, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Foreign Minister David Miliband, the High Commissioners of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Businesss Minister Lord Peter Mandelson, `Harry Potter` author J.K. Rowling, the sculptor Anish Kapoor, the leaders of all the main British political parties, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Speaker of the British parliament, and several leading members from the nearly two million-strong Indian diaspora in Britain.
Patil is only the third Indian president to come to Britain on a state visit - after S. Radhakrishnan in 1963 and R. Venkataraman in 1990 - and the first since the two countries signed a landmark `strategic partnership` agreement in 2004.
The white-tie banquet was held in the historic St. George`s Hall, where the British Queen referred glowingly to ties between India and Britain, saying the two countries "have a long shared history which today is a source of great strength in building a new partnership fit for this new century."
"Nearly two million of our own citizens are tied by descent and enduring family links to India," said the Queen, who had hosted a reception for Indian-origin achievers in Buckingham Palace earlier this month in advance of Patil`s Oct 27-29 state visit.
"They represent one of the United Kingdom`s most dynamic and successful communities…They have enriched our society, and continue to refresh and strengthen the bonds between our tow countries."
The guests sat lining a long and narrow mahogany table, with Patil flanked by the Queen and her eldest son Prince Charles, who is to host a reception for the visiting dignitary Wednesday.
The grand table, made in 1846 for Queen Victoria, is 170ft long and seats 148. Staff at the 900-year-old Windsor Castle spend two days laying the table for state banquets - held once a year - measuring every setting precisely. Each chair before the meal is placed exactly 27 inches from the table.