How I witnessed a miracle

The general secretary of the Hindu council kicks of his series of blogs by explaining just what he l

The thing I love about Hinduism is that it gives me complete freedom to make my own decisions on how to practice my religion, it gives me the flexibility I need and indeed it gives me a great amount of choice. I have always felt from a very young age that there is a higher power beyond this universe, this nature, our world.

Many a time I have seen the results of prayer in my own life and some of those little miracles may well be ascribed to coincidences but when you actually weigh all the arguments in your own mind its difficult not to accept the power of prayer or an intervention by another force. Besides that I did have a very personal experience at the age of 19 which left no doubt in my mind of the existence of a higher power or reality.

One of the very public experiences I had was at the week of the milk miracle of 1995, when Lord Ganesh and generally Lord Shiva’s family was drinking milk. I got a phone call from my mother in law to go to the temple and try and offer milk to Ganesh ji, she insisted that I must go immediately whereas I could hardly believe that a stone idol could consume a liquid. I couldn’t help laughing in my mind though realising that my mother in law would not have phoned me in office hours – I run an accountancy practice - unless it was serious.

So I went to the Vishwa Hindu temple at Lady Margaret Road in Southall and at about 1pm there was a queue of 4 or 5 people in front of me. They were all offering milk in a spoon to the Deity Nandi – a marble idol of the bull that is supposed to be Lord Shiva’s vehicle and his foremost devotee and is worshipped as a family member of Lord Shiva. Incidentally Lord Ganesh is the first son of God which Goddess Parvati, the wife of Lord Shiva, created and infused life into. I was not thinking of Lord Shiva or Ganesh or Parvati at the time but just offered a spoon full of milk to Nandi as directed by the priest.

As I raised the spoon to Nandi’s mouth and the milk touched the idol, very slightly, the level of milk in the spoon started to go down as if someone was actually drinking it, quite evenly.

I was shaking with awe.

This experience made me realise how stupid I had been to be influenced by the negative propaganda against idols by some ideologies of other religions. I did always believe in the almighty and prayed to, say Lord Krishna, or Lord Shiva etc. and of course in my youth did not question much but as I grew up I was influenced by the negative propaganda against idolatry targeted mainly at Hindus and in spite of the Hindu belief that once an idol is consecrated in the temple through Vedic Mantras then spirituality is infused in the idol and for all intents and purposes it becomes God, alive in spirit, I could not bring myself to agree with this belief, which seemed to me just a theory.

Nonetheless I understood that my thoughts had to be directed towards an indescribable reality God through some form of medium and so I prayed to Lord Shiva or Krishna or Goddess Durga whenever I went to the temple, quite sincerely. It was not really important to believe that the idols were alive, what mattered to me were my thoughts and devotion. However after the milk miracle everything changed in that respect. And that to happen through the idol of Nandi, a Bull, associated with Lord Shiva i.e., not even Shiva himself or Ganesh or Parvati.

Though of course as Hindus believe that animals, plants, and all life have a soul, rather the Atma, I have never had any problem in accepting the divinity of all life in any case and whatever other religions propaganda may have been on that point but that afternoon I began to understand that true spirituality, the science of metaphysics, has been with us from the ancient of times. That afternoon was the most wonderful time of that year as it crystallised my faith through experience.

I rang my wife who is a scientist with a PhD and actually works in medicinal research. She too laughed in disbelief. Then I asked her to ring her mother also and in any case, on her way home from work, she stopped at Ram Mandir in King street, Southall. Being a scientist she offered the milk to the “bronze” serpent around Shiva’s neck and the milk went into thin air. Since then her Hindu beliefs consolidated and she now observes various practices much more devoutly than me.

I rang some of my local clients, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians to tell them what had happened. They all went there and had the same experience.

Hinduism is vast and complex and in the next 3 blogs I will attempt to give you a flavour of my religion in three small parts.

Anil Bhanot read Actuarial Science at university but then qualified as a chartered accountant. He was one of the founding members of Hindu Council UK in 1994 and was first elected as general secretary in 2003.
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.