The most important and widely celebrated Hindu festival of lights Diwali, had its nineteenth festive gathering at the House of Commons on 23 October. The Terrace Pavilion was transformed into a vibrant and colourful space, full of light and laughter, prominent guests with scrumptious Indian festive food – a true and wonderful manifestation of the spirit of Diwali in the heart of London.
Over 180 people attended the function and representatives from all sections of the society were present. This year’s Parliamentary hosts were Bob Blackman MP and Lord Dholakia OBE.
Following on from the opening prayers by the priest from ISKCON, The President of HFB, Mrs Trupti Patel, in her opening address to the gathering warmly welcomed everyone and spoke about the importance and significance of Diwali to the Hindu Community and how the profound principles that reflect this important festival can be imbibed by individuals to create a harmonious and integrated society. She spoke about mass movement in the interests of the Hindu community which requires a coming together as a powerful force to effect change.
“The key word for us this year is engagement,” said Trupti Patel. “No matter how hard we try in organising the final goal, for the community and the nation, you have to be inside the Chakravyue so that we can make the difference – the year ahead will be challenging for Britain and British Hindus. The country will need us more than ever… This year let’s reach out even more to the other communities, let’s share with them why this 2% of Hindus contribute to nearly 8 per cent of UK’s GDP,” she said.
The co-hosts were then invited to give an address. Bob Blackman, popularly known as ‘Bobbhai’ and who has been re-elected as the Chair of the British Hindus APPG, strongly asserted his position regarding the two issues which are of current concern to the Hindu community: the impending protest march in London planned for Diwali Day and the Kashmir issue which has been at the forefront of our minds.
In no uncertain terms, he said the march was really an affront to the community being planned for on Diwali Day. He had personally raised this issue in Parliament with the Prime Minister. As far as Kashmir is concerned, Bob re-iterated that this was an internal matter for the Indian government and to internationalise it is clearly a mistake. It is well known that the Labour Party has passed a resolution in their annual conference, condemning India for its actions in Kashmir.
“We are bringing Hindus from various temples, organisations together as one voice… acting with one voice and speaking with one voice is absolutely critical. This is critical of Hindu organisations, often they fragment and fracture and form alternate organisations when they fall out…” he said.
Lord Dholakia congratulated the community in its achievements and echoed Bob’s thoughts on the two issues confronting it. He also spoke about how important it was to have a Hindu presence in both the Houses of Parliament as this not only allows us to have a voice but allows us to protect our place and space in the UK society.
“No community should ever be frightened to peacefully celebrate their religious functions and no communities should have the right to pose an obstacle in that manner… I want to see representation from this community in occupying the green benches in the Commons and the red benches in the Lords,” he said.
The co-hosts were accompanied on stage by the three Vice-Presidents of HFB: Mr Punnet Dwivedi (Scotland), Mr Tarang Shelat (Midlands) and Dr Ramesh Pattni (South).
Rt Hon Priti Patel, the first Hindu Home Secretary spoke on Diwali and highlighted the importance of Diwali as a celebration of the noble Hindu values. She added that Hindus are very much visible in all sectors in the UK, and that the community was going from strength to strength in their contributions to the UK society and economy.
She stated how delighted she was with the efforts of the HFB in organising this event and in its efforts to bring to the forefront the challenges to the Hindu community.
There were congratulations and felicitations from many MPs including Rt Hon Theresa Villiers Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs thanked HFB for a start of the Diwali festival at the HoC, the High Commission of India first Secretary Mr Rohit Vadhwana, Shailesh Vara MP, Mr C B Patel, Patron of HFB, Dr Jotangia President of VHP. Scottish MPs, Deidre Brock and Alison Thewliss, Lord Dolar Popat, Pandit Satish Sharma and Kapil Dudhakia.
Finally, a vote of Thanks was rendered by Mr Velji Vekaria, the Chair for this year’s Diwali Committee of HFB.
Diwali has become a time when the world is reminded that we as human beings, in our lives, must find the light of wisdom that will sustain us and the generations to come into the future, the light that will counter the forces of negativity and darkness. The eternal message and the spirit of Diwali has stood the test of time and is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.
Ramesh is the Vice President (London and South) and chair of the membership committee for the Hindu Forum of Britain. He is also a Professor at Oxford.