Diwali Greetings

Councillor Manjula Sood is the Lord Mayor of Leicester, where the largest Diwali celebration outside

Diwali - from Deepavali, meaning row of lights - is one of the most popular and widely celebrated Hindu Festivals. Diwali marks the end of the Hindu year. Above all, Diwali is about the concept of light: divas (traditional Indian lamps) were lit at Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhaya after 14 years of exile. The holiday is the celebration of good over evil where light is the symbol of knowledge.

Diwali has special significance for Jains in that it commemorates the passing of the Lord Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara, in the year 527BC.

For Sikhs, Diwali is celebrated in remembrance of the 6th Guru Hargobindji‘s return from imprisonment by the Mughul Emperor Jahingir. The magnificent Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit up with thousands of lights at Diwali.

On Diwali, families exchange gifts, sweets and cards. The Indian sweets, Mithai, are only exchanged during Diwali and are usually homemade. Traditionally, families will visit their place of worship and decorate their homes with ‘Rangoli’ patterns which symbolises Peace, Prosperity and Harmony.

Although some celebrate for only one or two days, many people celebrate for five days. Day 3 of Diwali is Lakshmi Pooja. This is the day when worship unto Mother Lakshma is performed. Diwali also forms the last day of the Hindu Financial year.

Leicester hosts the largest Diwali celebration outside India. This year approximately 48,000 people attended the switch on event on 12 October, which as you can imagine involved a lot of road closures! The celebration involved the lights being switched on and cultural performances. Many people from around the UK - and even abroad - traveled to Leicester to witness the event and to join in the festivities.

Since the 1960s, Leicester has been home to many diverse communities which in turn has produced a Diwali celebration full of pomp and show. Leicester is one of the most culturally diverse cities, nationally and globally and all cultures come together in the spirit of friendship to celebrate Diwali.

As the Lord Mayor of Leicester, and on behalf of the Lady Mayoress and Consorts, I am delighted to convey my best wishes for Diwali and the New Year to all Hindu, Sikh and Jain Communities of Leicester.

Diwali commemorates victory over darkness and evil, and I pray for happiness, peace, harmony and fulfilment of all our hopes and ambitions, and may the Festival of Lights be full of splendour and promise of peace and prosperity.

May the light of love shine brightly in your hearts.

The Right Worshipful, the Lord Mayor of Leicester Councillor Manjula Sood is the first Asian female Lord Mayor.

Photo: Getty
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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.