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.

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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.