TORONTO, Aug 10: Top Canadian leaders, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, ministers and MPs, joined thousands of Indians in advance celebrations of India’s 66th Independence Day celebrations here on Saturday featuring cultural performances and a colourful parade in core downtown.
Congratulating Indians at day-long Independence day celebrations at Yonge-Dundas Square, Premier Kathleen Wynne said, “It is a wonderful celebration and I wish you a safe and happy Independence Day.’’
She praised the contribution of the Indo-Canadians for enriching Canada through their hard work and cultural diversity.
“You have strengthened our country through your hard work,’’ the Premier said at the annual event organized by Panorama India – an umbrella organization of various Indian associations.
Highlighting deepening relations between India and the largest Canadian province, she said Ontario and India have a lot in common as both were models of democracy and multiculturalism.
Lauding the contribution made by the Indo-Canadians in strengthening these bilateral ties, the Premier said Ontario is “fortunate to have half a million people who trace their origin to India.’’
She praised outgoing Indian consul general Preeti Saran for her contribution to strengthening bilateral ties between India and Ontario. “Preeti is one of the most gracious persons I have ever met,’’ Kathleen Wynne said.
Thanking the Premier, Preeti Saran called her the `dearest friend’ of India and said India and Ontario shared deep bonds of friendship and common values.
Saran, who is leaving to take over as India’s ambassador to Vietnam, was wholesome in her praise of the Indo-Canadian community for their contribution in strengthening India-Canada relations.
“I had a pleasure working with the community…thank you for your immense support,’’ she said.
She said annual India Day celebrations in Toronto each year struck a chord in her and called her tenure as consul general in the city as `emotionally’ very satisfying.
Welcoming the Premier, the Consul General, dignitaries and the huge gathering with Namaskar, Sat Sri Akal, Adaab, Vanakum and bienvenue, Panorama India Chair Jibanjit Tripathy said freedom remains the most cherished word in human history, and India’s freedom “remains the most cherished and recognized” event in world history. “As we continue to celebrate our independence, we remember those sacrificed their lives so that we could live a free nation,” Tripathy said.
He said Indo-Canadians are proud of their unique heritage and culture as well as being part of Canadian mosaic of multiculturalism. Today’ event, he said, is keeping with Panorama India’s mission to educate (others about India), celebrate (India’s diversity and rich heritage with others) and collaborate (with the mainstream).
Former Ontario minister Harinder Takhar congratulated the Indian community on India’s Independence Day and highlighted the role played by the outgoing consul general Preeti Saran in further deepening India-Canada ties.
“Preeti’s extra one and a half years were a bonus for us,’’ Takhar said amid laughter, referring to her four-and-a-half-year tenure in Toronto against the typical three-year assignments that Indian diplomats have enjoyed here.
In his speech, Tim Uppal, Canadian minister minister of state for multiculturalism, praised the immense contribution made Indo-Canadians to Canada.
Parliamentary secretary and senior-most Indo-Canadian MP Deepak Obhrai highlighted how India stood out in the world today for its vibrant democracy and economic growth and how it has become a role model for many countries since it began journey as an independent nation.
Senator Asha Seth read out Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s message of greetings for the Indo-Canadians.
“On August 15, 1947, the Indian national flag was raised for the first time and a new nation was born. Since that time, India has come into its own as a vibrant democracy and an emerging economic superpower, predicted to be the world’s third largest economy by 2050,’’ the Canadian prime minister said in his message.
“Canada stands ready to deepen our significant partnership with India in order to advance our common interests and to promote new opportunities for economic development and international trade for the benefit of both our peoples.’’
The Canadian prime minister praised Panorama India, the umbrella body of various Indian organizations, for organizing India Day celebrations in Toronto.
“I would like to commend Panorama India for their hard work in organizing this event and for their commitment to fostering fellowship amongst Indo-Canadians in the GTA. You can be proud of your efforts to build a stronger community. Please accept my best wishes for a memorable celebration,’’ Prime Minister Harper said.
In his congratulation message read by MP John McCallum, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said, “Such festivities work to connect our Indian communities with all Canadians…I, and the Liberal Party of Canada, believe that this country is great not in spite of its diversity, but because of it, and these celebrations further enrich society by introducing people to Indian culture and traditions.”
Kirsty Duncan, MP from the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke North, won rounds of applause for delivering her small congratulatory speech in halting Hindi-Punjabi mixture.
Earlier, the consul general unfurled the Indian national flag Tricolour and unveiled the Panorama India souvenir.
Among other prominent people who attended the opening ceremony were MPs Patrick Brown, Ted Opitz and Brad Butt; Amrit Mangat and Deepika Demerla (both Members of Provincial Parliament – MPPs – in Ontario); consuls D. Charandasi and Prit Pal Singh; Toronto Police Board chief Alok Mukherjee; Order-of-Canada Aditya Jha; Scotiabank multiculturalism director Pankaj Mehra; former senator Vim Kochhar; Lt Col (Hon) Hari Panday and retired soldiers of the Indian army living in the Greater Toronto Area.
After the opening ceremonies were over, a big India Day Parade went around the downtown core, giving a glimpse of life in various Indian states. Decorated rickshaws and cultural troupes representing various Indian states added colour to the parade.
With the Independence Day parade winding off at about 1.30 PM, a pan-India cultural extravaganza was unleashed on the stage as artists depicting dance and music from various states performed non-stop till 8PM. Well-known Indo-Canadian Bollywood singer and music producer Prichay was the star of the evening.
Interestingly, for the time Manipur state from north-east India participated in the cultural and show. There were also two items by Sri Lankan Tamils from Toronto.
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