Nov 9, 2011

Businessmen, politicians, sports and armed forces personalities of Hindu, Jain and Shikh communities some of them with Tilak in their forehead were waiting outside the 10 Downing Street on 20th October, one of the freezing days in autumn.

Being the General Secretary of the Nepalese Hindu Forum UK, I was also there at the invitation of Prime Minister David Cameroon, who had invited us at a reception to celebrate Diwali festival. There was no need to wait long as the security personnel allowed us to go inside before the invitation time of 5.30 in the evening. Immediately after entering the gate of No 10, we got the impression of festive fervour of Diwali with the aroma of South Asian savour and flavour. I was expecting severe verification and examination at the gate just before entering world’s one of the most secure zone but we were allowed inside with a normal security formality of checking our names in the ID and invitation card.

After routine customary security notices to switch off our phones, blackberries and iPods and leave them in the designated area of Cameroon’s resident, we were directed to the first floor hall where the aroma of South Asian hot and spicy as well as mild flavoured snacks and samosas could be perceived even before stepping into the room. Keeping in view the invited guests as most of them were definitely pure vegetarian and teetotaller, out-and–out succulent vegetarian foods were served. Anyone wishing to get pleasure from exhilarating drink could enjoy in demand. I like that idea very much as some of the guests would definitely not be pleased to attend the reception standing with the mixture of alcohol because some of them were pure priests of the Hindu temples where alcohol is utterly prohibited.

No. 10 Downing Street has a long history. It has accommodated all the prime ministers of the modern day United Kingdom. It is said that No 10 townhouse, was one of the several buildings built by Sir George Downing more than 400 years ago. It gets the name of “Downing” from him. Being the official resident of the Prime Minister, obviously, the Downing Street is nicely decorated where pictures of all the prime ministers are hung in historical chronological order- the recent prime ministers like Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher are close to the first floor stairs so the visitors attending the reception could see clearly. Most of the recent year prime ministers including Tony Blair and David Cameroon were criticized for spending thousands of pounds for the renovation and decoration of No 10. Cameroon is said to have “spent more than £680,000 of public money renovating Downing Street in the year that his government inflicted the biggest ever spending cuts across the public sector.” So we can easily envisage how important this historical building of the United Kingdom is.

Prime Minister Cameroon, who came at the end of the reception due to his busy schedule of the day because Colonel Gaddafi was captured and killed therefore he was on video conference with Obama, lighted the lamp to celebrate Diwali which is also the festival of light, and said: “thank you very much and very warm welcome to everyone to No 10 Downing Street to celebrate Diwali.”

I had the feeling that Mr Cameroon is an anti immigrant political leader and would not spend words in praising the “immigrant community” but to my surprise he commended the contributions of Hindu community, which is the immigrant community in the United Kingdom. He said Hindu community has made tremendous contributions to the UK especially in business, sports and art and culture. Mr Cameroon added: “I want to share this celebration with you, to celebrate what British Hindus do and the great contribution you make to our country,” he said.

His language, tone and selection of words are impressive with full of fun and delight. We are immigrants, and conservatives are by nature anti immigrants. Despite this feeling in me, I am not short of appreciation of people. I like the way he talks: both words and content. Cameroon said: I “also warn you that in a minute my children will arrive because of all the parties we have in Downing Street — they actually think that Diwali is by far the most exciting because of the lights, because of the colour, because of the flowers, because of the sweet drinks. They’ve almost converted, so probably tonight could be the key moment.”

He seemed to be excited to tell the story of death of Colonel Gaddafi, a horrible dictator who was once described as “mad dog” by former US president late Ronald Regan. “I have had President Obama on a video conference call and Colonel Gaddafi has died in Libya." One day I'll get it all muddled up but I just about still know where I am." He connected the story of death of Gaddafi to the celebration of Diwali and said: "Obviously Diwali being the festival of a triumph of good over evil, and also celebrating the death of a devil, perhaps there's a little resonance in what I'm saying tonight.”

I was really impressed with his bursting at the seams language and tone. Prime Minister was quite right to speak well of Hindu community as the moral and ethical values of Hindus is incomparable. Hindus believe in the welfare of all humanity (all living being including animals) irrespective of their religious beliefs. Hindus pray saying “may all be happy, may all be healthy, may all enjoy prosperity, and may none suffer. Om peace, peace, peace!” There is no accusation of “infidel” to other religious beliefs despite being pure vegetarians. There is no feeling of superiority despite following one of the oldest religions of the world. There is no extremists’ feeling. There is no any odour of Hinduism in their Mantra. It is for all. Hindus believe for the welfare of all. Hindus are loyal citizens. Hindus integrate quite easily wherever they live. We came out of the Prime Minister’s residence with full of praise and pleasure with buoyant disposition for his words which were genuine and coming from his heart and also expressing our tribute for his bounteousness.

Meanwhile, it was a matter of great pleasure to attend and listen the leaders of political spectrums echoing their words in applauding and appreciating the Hindu community at a Diwali programme at the House of Commons on 20th October. President of the Hindu Forum of Britain Arjun Vekaria JP, emphasised the need for unity and how people should live a life full of love, harmony and peace.

“Diwali is an international event celebrated across the world. The single fact that reverberates across the celebration period is the unity in diversity.

"It’s a time where we forget the personal animosity and extend our hands for a friendly gesture even to a stranger. We must reflect on our virtues in the most humble way,” he said.

General Secretary of HFB Bharati Taylor, Dasturji Dr Firoze Kotwal head priest of the Zoroastrian community, Acting Indian High Commissioner, Rajesh Prasad, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Prickles among others spoke on Hindu community and Diwali on the occasion.

Tory party co-chairman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who had visited India, recently said “So much of what Diwali is all about is embodied when you go and visit such a great nation. I actually say Diwali is an international festival.”

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband said the changing policy of “our party’s relationship with the Hindu community because we are representative in every respect”. “I am a second generation immigrant and I know many of the challenges immigrant communities face,” he added.

Simon Hughes, Liberal Democratic deputy leader in the Commons, who is also just back from India, joked: “I notice the event is sponsored by a bank (the State Bank of India). The celebration of Diwali is partly to say prayers to Lakshmi to bring wealth and prosperity to the new financial year — Britain needs wealth and prosperity. Open your windows, open your doors, and allow the spirit of Diwali to give us the prosperity. I have to say that if we need to look anywhere for prosperity, look to the Hindu community.”

Being an immigrant Hindu, it was obviously an immense gratification to hear the leaders echoing and recognising the important role the immigrant Hindu community is playing in the United Kingdom. Though there is anti immigrant feelings across the continent especially after 9/11 terrorist attack in the US and London bombing of 2005 and Islamic extremists’ threat, the Hindu community has upheld its dignity and respect and needs to maintain that decorum in accordance with the great Hindu tradition of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”, whole world is one single family.