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November 10, 2003   VNN8443  

British PM Lights Diwali Lamp In Parliament


ENGLAND, Nov 10 (VNN) — (from left to right) Keith Vaz who is MP for Leicester East, Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ramesh Kallidai (Romapada Dasa) who is the General Secretary for the Hindu Centre for Communications)

Tony Blair lights Diwali lamp in Parliament while hearing Hare Krishna chant
By Vijay Dutt - London, October 30

Looking ebullient, Tony Blair strode into the huge Members' Dining Hall in the House of Commons with a big smile and cheering from over 500 Indians gathered there to celebrate Diwali. The cheering and clapping was deafening when he lighted the Diwali lamp to the accompaniment of Sanskrit shlokas and the chanting of 'Hare Ram Hare Krishna' (by Gauri Dasa, President of Bhaktivedanta Manor). He became the first British Prime Minister to do so inside the palace of Westminster's House of Commons.

Blair led a number of ministers and MPs drawn from all the three political parties to attend the reception organised by over 50 Hindu organisations and 12 British Parliamentarians.

Speaking to over 100 MPs and 400 guests, Blair said: "It is a great privilege and pleasure for me to share in the joy of celebrating Diwali with the Hindu community in the House of Commons. Diwali is now celebrated by different communities across the UK and its growing popularity helps to strengthen the bonds between them. I am deeply touched by the unity, warmth and joy this festival brings each year and the spirit with which it is celebrated." He added that he is proud to be living in a country that is most diverse and multi-cultural in the world. The former Asian minister in Blair's first cabinet, Keith Vaz, MP, added: "The prime minister's celebration of Diwali in the House of Commons is a unique achievement in the history of the British Parliament."

This was the second successive year that Diwali was celebrated in the Parliament. "The major difference this year was the introduction of an interfaith element to the celebrations," pointed out Ramesh Kallidai (Romapada Dasa), General Secretary of the Hindu Centre for Communications, who was the coordinator for the event.

He said: "Leaders of all the main faiths and all three political parties came together at the House of Commons to celebrate and share the universal message of Diwali."

The reception transformed the Members' Dining Room into a riot of colour as a large statue of Lord Ram looked down upon a splendid display of hundreds of varieties of Indian food, traditional wick lamps, rangoli designs, Indian sculpture and sweets.

Other guests included the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram, Chair of the Conservative Party Theresa May, Chair of the Liberal Democrats Lord Dholakia and Michael Howard MP, as well as other members of the cabinet, MPs, Life peers, community leaders, diplomats, businessmen and faith leaders.

Praising the contribution of Indians in Britain, Jack Straw said: "The largest contingent of volunteer soldiers in the World War came from India. Out of 1.2 million of these soldiers, 66000 Indians died, 9000 were honoured and nine got the Victoria Cross. What you have done for us, we cannot do for you."

Minister for Transport, Tony McNulty, whose constituency in Harrow boasts a 60 per cent Hindu population said: "The Hindu festival of Janmashtami falls on September 7, 2004. Since Parliament will be in session at that time, we would very much like this festival to be celebrated here too."

In a message, Charles Kennedy, Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party said: "The message of Diwali is applicable universally - and therefore it is of relevance to people of all ethnicity, backgrounds and cultures. Britain is a multi-cultural, multi-faith society and we all gain by sharing in celebrating festivals like these. I am delighted to support this event and join in welcoming the Hindu community's initiative in celebrating Diwali at the House of Commons." Praising the achievements of the Hindu community in Britain, Shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin said: "The Hindu community in Britain has made a significant contribution to the cultural, economic and social development of our country. Diwali is an expression of the community's integration within multi-ethnic Britain because it celebrates the universally shared ideals of reconciliation, friendship, new beginnings and good fortune."

Explaining the relevance of holding Diwali at the House of Commons, Ramesh Kallidai (Romapada Dasa), explained: "Ram rajya or the rule of Lord Ram is considered the perfect model of governance. It is, therefore, most appropriate that Lord Ram's victory over evil should be celebrated inside the historic precincts of the House of Commons from where the principles of democracy and good governance spread to other parts of the world."

© the Hindustan Times

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