A Sikh's spiritual journey

This week the Faith Column focuses on the Sikh religion with Harwinder Singh describing his religion

“The Lord works in mysterious ways!” declared the preacher at Piccadilly Circus. Many of you may know who I am talking about as he seems to have become a fixture of the hustle and bustle at London’s most famous intersection. Middle-aged, white and somewhat street-wise, he looks a little like Robert Redford… until you hear his voice over the PA.

When I had first started commuting into central London to gain work experience at a myriad of film and production companies, I was cold and oblivious to my surroundings. I marched along in unison with my fellow Englishmen, muttering under my breath at the tourists who slowed our pace down to their own snail-like strolling. I would never have listened, nor tried to listen to the words that were being bellowed across the traffic over a simple wireless microphone.

Five years on and although my pace has not slowed, I have begun to take in the sounds and pictures that bombard me and my fellow Londoners at every turn. This is partly due to a hard-grafted education gained from working within the media industry and in particular an independent record label where I met some amazing individuals. But it is my journey in life as a Sikh that has mostly influenced the change in me to notice the Piccadilly Circus preacher.

A Sikh is described as a student or a disciple. But a student of whom, or what? Most of us can surmise that a Sikh is likely to be a disciple of Guru Nanak, the founder of The Sikh Way of life. But as I have come to find, it is what Guru Nanak represents and embodies that the Sikh is a student of: The Truth. This should not be misunderstood as a single, righteous proclamation of divinity, rather it is a reference to that which we call existence, reality and knowledge.

Everybody and everything is subject to the same principles and is governed by the same laws, it is simply that we have found differing ways over time to interpret these. Since graduating from University I began to spend more of my time reading and understanding the Guru Granth Sahib, the scriptural incarnation of Guru Nanak.

Little by little (sometimes merely a word at a time!) I have begun to recognise and practise Guru Nanak’s philosophy in my everyday life. Heightening my awareness to the beautiful game that is being played out around me is one such tenet that I have managed to harness.

Today, it is amazing to think that I had spent so many teenage years in slumber. My eyes were open and my ears could hear, but I was not listening nor was I able to see.

There is a wondrous thread of Divinity that weaves its way through our lives and our paths if we could just take the time to notice it. In my understanding, noticing precedes appreciation, which itself is a fore-runner for realisation.

If that is the case, then there are many stages of enlightenment that I am yet to achieve. Ten years from now, I will look back at this moment and wonder how I could’ve been so presumptuous to believe and write as I have done! With time comes experience and greater learning. Truly, the Lord does work in mysterious ways, but perhaps one day I will understand what those ways are and they won’t be so mysterious then. But as the Piccadilly Preacher, I along with the rest of the World continue to declare my knowledge and perception of reality as it is today. If I learn from it, then it has been worthwhile.

Harwinder Singh is a 26-year-old Law graduate turned film and TV producer. He is also a record label boss. Born in the UK to Punjabi parents, he been practising and studying the Sikh Way of Life for about 20 years.
Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Tony Blair might be a toxic figure - but his influence endures

Politicians at home and abroad are borrowing from the former prime minister's playbook. 

On 24 May at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, a short distance from where he once governed, Tony Blair resurfaced for a public discussion. Having arrived on an overnight flight, he looked drawn and puffy-eyed but soon warmed to his theme: a robust defence of liberal globalisation. He admitted, however, to bafflement at recent events in the world. "I thought I was pretty good at politics. But I look at politics today and I’m not sure I understand it."

Blair lost power in the summer of 2007. In the ensuing nine years, he lost reputation. His business ventures and alliances with autocrats have made him a pariah among both the public and his party. A YouGov poll published last year found that 61 per cent of voters regarded Blair as an electoral liability, while just 14 per cent viewed him as an asset. In contrast, John Major, whom he defeated by a landslide in 1997, had a neutral net rating of zero. It is ever harder to recall that Blair won not one general election (he is the only living Labour leader to have done so) but three.

His standing is likely to diminish further when the Iraq inquiry report is published on 6 July. Advance leaks to the Sunday Times suggest that he will be censured for allegedly guaranteeing British military support to the US a year before the invasion. Few minds on either side will be changed by the 2.6 million-word document. Yet its publication will help enshrine Iraq as the defining feature of a legacy that also includes the minimum wage, tax credits, Sure Start, devolution and civil partnerships.

Former leaders can ordinarily rely on their parties to act as a last line of defence. In Blair’s case, however, much of the greatest opprobrium comes from his own side. Jeremy Corbyn inclines to the view that Iraq was not merely a blunder but a crime. In last year’s Labour leadership election, Liz Kendall, the most Blair-esque candidate, was rewarded with 4.5 per cent of the vote. The former prime minister’s imprimatur has become the political equivalent of the black spot.

Yet outside of the Labour leadership, Blairism endures in notable and often surprising forms. Sadiq Khan won the party’s London mayoral selection by running to the left of Tessa Jowell, one of Tony Blair’s closest allies. But his successful campaign against Zac Goldsmith drew lessons from Blair’s election triumphs. Khan relentlessly presented himself as “pro-business” and reached out beyond Labour’s core vote. After his victory, he was liberated to use the B-word, contrasting what “Tony Blair did [in opposition]” with Corbyn’s approach.

In their defence of the UK’s EU membership, David Cameron and George Osborne have deployed arguments once advanced by New Labour. The strategically minded Chancellor has forged an unlikely friendship with his former nemesis Peter Mandelson. In the domestic sphere, through equal marriage, the National Living Wage and the 0.7 per cent overseas aid target, the Conservatives have built on, rather than dismantled, significant Labour achievements."They just swallowed the entire manual," Mandelson declared at a recent King’s College seminar. "They didn’t just read the executive summary, they are following the whole thing to the letter."

Among SNP supporters, "Blairite" is the pejorative of choice. But the parallels between their party and New Labour are more suggestive than they would wish. Like Blair, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have avoided income tax rises in order to retain the support of middle-class Scottish conservatives. In a speech last August on education, Sturgeon echoed the Blairite mantra that "what matters is what works".

Beyond British shores, political leaders are similarly inspired by Blair – and less reticent about acknowledging as much. Matteo Renzi, the 41-year-old centre-left Italian prime minister, is a long-standing admirer. "I adore one of his sayings,” he remarked in 2013. “I love all the traditions of my party, except one: that of losing elections."

In France, the reform-minded prime minister, Manuel Valls, and the minister of economy, Emmanuel Macron, are also self-described Blairites. Macron, who in April launched his own political movement, En Marche!, will shortly decide whether to challenge for the presidency next year. When he was compared to Blair by the TV presenter Andrew Marr, his response reflected the former prime minister’s diminished domestic reputation: “I don’t know if, in your mouth, that is a promise or a threat.”

The continuing attraction of Blair’s “third way” to European politicians reflects the failure of the project’s social-democratic critics to construct an alternative. Those who have sought to do so have struggled both in office (François Hollande) and out of it (Ed Miliband). The left is increasingly polarised between reformers and radicals (Corbyn, Syriza, Podemos), with those in between straining for relevance.

Despite his long absences from Britain, Blair’s friends say that he remains immersed in the intricacies of Labour politics. He has privately warned MPs that any attempt to keep Corbyn off the ballot in the event of a leadership challenge would be overruled by the National Executive Committee. At Methodist Central Hall, he said of Corbyn’s supporters: “It’s clear they can take over a political party. What’s not clear to me is whether they can take over a country.”

It was Blair’s insufficient devotion to the former task that enabled the revival of the left. As Alastair Campbell recently acknowledged: “We failed to develop talent, failed to cement organisational and cultural change in the party and failed to secure our legacy.” Rather than effecting a permanent realignment, as the right of the party hoped and the left feared, New Labour failed to outlive its creators.

It instead endures in a fragmented form as politicians at home and abroad co-opt its defining features: its pro-business pragmatism, its big-tent electoralism, its presentational nous. Some of Corbyn’s ­allies privately fear that Labour will one day re-embrace Blairism. But its new adherents would never dare to use that name.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad