BRUSSELS: Belgium on Sunday conferred double honours of the Order of Leopold, its second highest civilian award, and an Honorary Doctorate on Congress President and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi for her "constructive nationalism" and efforts to foster a multicultural, tolerant society in India.
Hours after the Belgian King Albert II hosted a luncheon in her honour at the Royal Lacken Castle, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt presented the Order of King Leopold to an emotionally-moved Gandhi, while the Rector of the Brussels University, Prof B Van Camp, conferred her with the doctorate.
Gandhi told the packed gathering that she was truly overwhelmed by the "singular honours" bestowed on her.
"By conferring these distinctions, you are recognizing not the individual that I am, but the values that I have imbibed and stand for," she said and gave credit to the Nehru-Indira Gandhi family to which she was married to.
Gandhi and Verhofstadt lit a lamp inaugurating an exhibition 'Tejas -- Eternal Energy' organised as part of a Festival of India, showcasing various aspects of the country combining new dynamism and cultural heritage.
Referring to the growing and buoyant Indian economy, the UPA chairperson told Belgian companies to actively consider taking advantage of the situation and invest in India.
"In the area of economy and trade, our two countries have been expanding and deepening their partnership. Belgium is the second largest trading partner for India within the EU," she said.
"Our bilateral trade crossed 8 billion Euros in 2005, much of it contributed by the diamond trade. And here I would like to express my appreciation of the contribution that the Indian community in Belgium has made to our economic relations and to the Belgian economy," Gandhi said.
"It is a matter of satisfaction that investment totaling more than one billion Euros has come from India to Belgium in recent months. I hope Belgian companies will also actively consider taking advantage of the growing and buoyant Indian economy," she said.
The Belgian prime minister referred to his recent visit to India and said five days was too short a time to cover a vast country like India which is "a hundred times bigger than Belgium and having a population two-fold all countries in Europe taken together."
Noting that in India there is culture everywhere, Guy Verhofstadt said as a matter of fact India is not only the greatest democracy on earth and a born-again economic superpower in the making, but it is also one of the cradles of civilisation.
"Indian cultures have played a major role in the spiritual development of mankind, not only on the Indian subcontinent but on a much larger scale. Bronze and stone witnesses of these spiritual traditions can be seen everywhere in India, but for the first time (in their greatest variety) also in Brussels.
Tejas, which means eternal or cosmic energy, inspired Indian culture and civilisation since at east 3000 years, surviving any age, overcoming any obstacle and constantly renewing.
"I guess this 'eternal energy' to be a source of the remarkable Indian political and economy recovery these last decades. For wealth and prosperity are not only fuelled by economic growth and political institutions, but equally by culture and tradition," he said.