Statement on the Labour parliamentary selection for Leicester East

“I was disappointed not to be selected as Labour’s candidate for Leicester East. I want to thank my friends and supporters in the constituency. In my job I challenge abuse of power and corruption – and as a Labour member I fight injustice and unfairness. So I cannot stay silent on the obvious dodgy practices and nepotism involved in this process, where Labour’s ruling Executive chose a member of Labour’s ruling Executive, as the candidate.

NEC members are meant to be the referees in late selections, not divvy them up for themselves and be the beneficiaries. The fact that some journalists were briefed before applications had even opened that Claudia Webbe was to be gifted the seat, exposes the inherent unfairness of this sham contest. This type of conduct, where a well-connected favourite is nodded through, is no better than the Etonian old boys’ network that Labour seeks to condemn.

Worst of all, it is a slap in the face for the Indian community in Leicester and across Britain, to not only impose a non-Indian heritage candidate – in a seat with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country – but also a candidate who chaired Labour’s National Conference earlier this year when it passed an appalling anti-India motion. It sends entirely the wrong message and is an insult to the people I come from. It shows just how little the Labour Party values and respects the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs.

Any other decent candidate would have been suitable – it didn’t necessarily have to be me. But by selecting such an inappropriate candidate for Leicester East, Labour has chosen to rub salt into the wound it has created amongst British Indians. Labour is taking the Indian vote for granted and I condemn this crooked outcome.”

Sundip Meghani

BBC News television interview to discuss my statement

Statement published on Twitter on 12 November 2019

Subsequent media coverage of this story:

TwitterBBC NewsThe TimesPolitics HomeLabourListLeicester Mercury – London Evening StandardHuffington PostNews India ExpressGuido FawkesConnected to IndiaOutlook IndiaHindustan TimesTimes of India – News 18India Inc Group24 Plus News – Tribune IndiaBusiness StandardEastern Eye

The value of dissent and the need for greater knowledge

The trouble with beliefs that strive for purity and perfection — religious fundamentalism, extreme veganism, communism / hard left, fascism / hard right etc. — is that these ideologies fail to understand people and fail to understand human relationships.

Thus, in their quest for a pure and perfect humanity, these warped minds abuse and attack those who do not submit to their totalitarian way of life.

The irony, of course, is that they profess to have a deep well of compassion for their fellow human beings.

Whereas, in reality, they are entirely heartless and entirely intolerant of dissent.

They view and treat dissenters — anyone who disagrees with them — as unworthy, and entirely disposable; human collateral damage, justifiable for the greater cause and the glory days to come.

But being intolerant of dissent means being hostile to new information. It means closing one’s mind to fresh ideas and alternative thinking.

In effect, it is akin to saying “I know all there is to know — and I need no additional knowledge.” It is a cessation of learning and an embrace of ignorance.

Today, we can see the politics of ignorance at play in Trump’s America, in Brexit Britain, and in authoritarian regimes across the world.

It is high time that decent, intelligent, compassionate people fought back and reclaimed the future direction of our shared humanity.

We cannot go into the New Year and beyond allowing fanatics to divide us and tear us down, as they infect our social discourse and our politics with their rancid indifference.

All of us as human beings are imperfect, flawed, beautiful and fragile.

We have but 80 or 85 years on this Earth, if we’re lucky, and we owe it to future generations to try to leave the world in a considerably better state than it is today.

And so that is my wish for 2018 and, I hope, the shared aspiration for many millions of good people.

Happy New Year to all!

Celebrating Navratri with local people in Oadby and Wigston

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu CommunityI was delighted to visit Gartree High School on Friday 26 September 2014. I had been invited by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community to join them in celebrating Navratri, a wonderful 9-day festival of dance which is important to many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

It was a pleasure to meet and speak with hundreds of local residents enjoying the festivities. I talked about the meaning of Navratri and I congratulated the committee and the community for putting on such a successful event.

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu CommunityI spoke about my parliamentary candidacy in 2015 and our local Labour candidates also standing for election in Oadby and Wigston. I got the sense that local residents are optimistic about the future and eager to see change. People want politicians who understand them and are prepared to stand up for their values and beliefs.

After I spoke many people thanked me for visiting and some even congratulated me on the quality of my Gujarati! I was incredibly impressed to see the local Hindu community come together to organise events such as this, which are entirely self-funded and staffed by volunteers. The Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community are doing brilliant work locally and I look forward to supporting them in the months and years ahead.

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community

We need a sensible debate on the future of faith schools

Published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 27 June 2014

Many people were alarmed by the recent Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham. A “culture of fear and intimidation” had been created in several schools by hardline Islamists, and there was evidence of an “organised campaign to target certain schools”, according to Ofsted.

We should not make excuses for what happened in Birmingham and we should not brush it under the carpet. It is good that these unauthorised practises have been uncovered and it is right that steps are taken to address the issue.

The schools in question were not faith schools: they were secular schools being run by the local Council and by academy trusts. If they had been faith schools however, then a lot of what was found to be unacceptable would still be going on.

Public appetite for faith schools has diminished significantly. A survey by Opinium found that 58% of people believe faith schools should be abolished and 70% think they should not be state funded.

The central argument against faith schools is that young impressionable children are often taught to accept untruths as truths and to assimilate information through the prism of religion.

Newsnight recently featured a report on 30 private Christian faith schools, where children are taught that evolution isn’t true, and that the earth is only a few thousand years old. This of course contradicts the overwhelming evidence we have which proves that evolution is real and the earth is 4.54 billion years old.

Although the government has banned creationism from being taught in our 7,000 state-funded faith schools, private faith schools continue to operate as a law unto themselves.

Insofar as state funding for faith schools is concerned, to me it seems irrational and counter-intuitive. We don’t allow Council tenants to be housed on the basis of faith or NHS hospitals to have different wards for different religions.

Yet with state-funded faith schools we permit a religious apartheid in our education system, where the next generation of citizens are segregated along doctrinal lines, in accordance with their parent’s beliefs.

The late Christopher Hitchens claimed that faith schools were a “cultural suicide”. He argued that increasing them would turn Britain into somewhere like Lebanon, where people live in sectarian communities, and religious tensions are always simmering away ready to boil over.

Living in a multicultural and multi-faith society is a good thing but we must actively promote integration. We should have secular public services which treat all people equally irrespective of belief.

And all children should receive a well-rounded evidence-based education, with a healthy and inclusive understanding of other faiths and cultures, so as to prepare them for life in modern Britain and the wider world.

Leicester people condemn vandalism of Gandhi statue

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterMany Leicester people were appalled and disgusted on Saturday (7 June 2014), when photos emerged on social media showing that the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Belgrave Road had been defaced.

Rupal Rajani from BBC Leicester originally tweeted the photos from her personal account, which had been sent to her by local businessman Vinod Popat.

The graffiti on the statue is an attempt to draw attention to the awful 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Amritsar, a major controversy involving the Indian Prime Minister at the time, Mrs Indira Gandhi.

However it would seem that the culprit who committed this vandalism isn’t very bright. Either they did not know that Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were two very different people and completely unrelated. Or they did know the difference, and they did it anyway, in a bid to stir up tensions in the community. In any event, they have failed.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterThis act only serves to unify Leicester people from all backgrounds and communities, who recognise that it is not a legitimate political protest: it is simply a cowardly act of criminal damage.

Many of my Leicester Labour colleagues were quick to condemn this pathetic behaviour.

Cllr Vijay Singh Riyait of Abbey tweeted: “we need to be clear that this kind of thing is totally unacceptable”. And Assistant Mayor Cllr Manjula Sood of Latimer telephoned me and told me that “this is entirely wrong and goes against the teachings of Sikhism”. She also agreed to inform the police.

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, tweeted: “Shocked that the Gandhi statue in Belgrave has been defaced. A foolish act of vandalism. Let’s stay united and strong to honour the great man”. His comments were later retweeted by journalists from the BBC and Leicester Mercury.

Having noticed the photos on Twitter fairly earlier on I had immediately emailed them over to City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. The City Mayor and his Cabinet colleague Cllr Sarah Russell were very quick to respond, confirming within hours that Council officers would be out cleaning the graffiti on Sunday morning.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterIt is great to see that Leicester’s political leaders have taken this seriously. We are also very lucky to have such dedicated Council officers, promptly agreeing to carry out the cleaning work on a Sunday.

Some people have questioned why this is such a big issue. Others have even made light of it or tried to justify the sentiments being expressed.

For the avoidance of doubt let me be very clear. The graffiti applied to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue is not a legitimate political protest and it absolutely must not be justified under any circumstances.

The definition of terrorism is “the unauthorised use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. The desecration of this statue was unauthorised; it was an act of intimidation aimed at the mainly British Indian community living in Belgrave; and the purpose was wholly political.

It could be argued therefore that this act of vandalism also amounts to an act of terrorism. An act that was perpetrated by the same kind of closed-minded people who go on to commit far more dangerous acts, because they already have a blatant disregard for the rule of law. These people don’t want to convince us of their political beliefs; they want to force us into accepting them, and they’re prepared to break the law to do it.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterWe are lucky to live in a civilised western society built on the rule of law, human rights, freedom and democracy. Any transgression of these principles is an attack on all of us and our way of life. We must never justify any attempt to influence public discourse through the use violence, force or intimidation.

Thankfully I believe that this was an isolated incident and that these kinds of acts are very rare in Leicester. However we must always be prepared to stand together – people of all faiths and those of none – united against criminals and terrorists seeking to take the law into their own hands to advance their political beliefs.

Mahatma GandhiUltimately we have this statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester for the same reason that we have Nelson Mandela Park and may soon have – thanks to Cllr Adam Clarke of Aylestone – a statue of Alice Hawkins: We choose to honour great people and inspire the next generation.

We will not be intimidated by stupid cowards who break the law.

Cllr Sundip Meghani

UPDATE: The statue of Mahatma Gandhi has now been cleaned. This was done within 24 hours by Leicester City Council officers. Photo credit: Emily Anderson, BBC News. Leicestershire Police are investigating and two arrests were made on 11 June 2014. Anyone with any information should contact Leicestershire Police on 0116 222 22 22.

The statute of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester

Council commits to new riverside memorial space in Leicester

Click here to listen to an interview I gave on the BBC Asian Network in March 2014.

Leicester people – of all faiths and none – will soon have an additional choice when it comes to honouring the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

Leicester City Council has committed to developing a new riverside memorial space within the city, where people will be able to safely, peacefully and legally disperse the cremated ashes of loved ones into the river.

This is not only welcome news for the city’s large Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities, for whom the consecration of cremated ashes is an important ritual, but it’s also welcome news for all Leicester residents; research shows that 1 in 10 people would like to be able to scatter the ashes of a loved one in this way.

It will also give each of us – the Council tax payers of Leicester – an added option when it comes to having our own mortal remains treated in a dignified way. For someone who always loved to go fishing for example, or enjoyed summertime swimming, or even felt a deep connection with the natural environment, this final journey may well be something comforting to include in any last will and testament.

Until now the nearest place where people could safely and legally scatter ashes onto water was at Barrow-upon-Soar. However this option is rather poor as it only accommodates very limited numbers; involves a 20-mile round trip; and costs upwards of a hundred pounds.

It is therefore very much to the credit of our City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and his hardworking team, that we will soon have a simpler, cheaper and much more local space for the benefit of Leicester residents. I and several others have campaigned on this issue in recent months and I am glad that we are now taking this positive and pragmatic approach.

In regards to the specifics, the cabinet member for culture has advised me that the memorial space will be up-and-running by February 2014. Three potential sites have been selected and site visits and formal consultations will soon be commenced in order to pick the best location. Eventually we hope to have a site that is away from residential areas and one that runs in accordance with all relevant rules and regulations.

Overall most people would agree that talking about death has always been a bit of a taboo. But I think we ought to start taking a more responsible and practical approach to death and the grieving process. Ultimately we ought to do what we can to help make things less stressful and more manageable when our fellow citizens – including our friends and relatives – make that final transition into eternity.

My first year as a Councillor – activities and achievements

Exactly a year ago today residents in Beaumont Leys voted to elect me as one of their local Labour Councillors to serve on Leicester City Council.

It was a tremendous honour and a huge privilege to have been entrusted to represent the views of local people, especially as I’ve lived in the area since I was 7 years old. Also as the son of immigrants, who came to this country from East Africa fleeing persecution, and as someone who was born and raised on a council estate in Leicester, it was particularly poignant to have been chosen to serve on the very Council that had once supported me and my family when times were tough.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my party and my politics, but to be honest my love of politics merely stems from my love of people. That may sound like an awful cliché but it is the truth. In-fact I believe that if you’re not a people person and you don’t genuinely thrive on being able to solve problems and help make peoples’ lives that much easier, then you shouldn’t seek to hold public office.

Whereas if you have a passion for putting people first, for lifting hopes and aspirations, for fighting social injustice, and for leading by example and working hard, then politics isn’t just a career choice, it’s a moral imperative; an obligation to use your skills and expertise to serve the public and to try and make a difference in the world.

It’s been an incredible year and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m grateful to my good friend Vijay Riyait and all the wonderful people mentioned in this post who worked tirelessly on the election campaign.

I’ve been fortunate to have two excellent co-Councillors in Vi Dempster and Paul Westley, as well as a good deal of support from our hardworking local MP Liz Kendall, and City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. It’s a real pleasure to be part of such a great Labour team.

In addition to working closely with my fellow Councillors in holding regular ward surgeries, attending residents association meetings and carrying out specific casework and solving problems on behalf of constituents, here’s a summary of my other activities and achievements during my first 12 months as a Leicester City Councillor:

Policing:

  • Appointed as a Member of the Leicestershire Police Authority and attended numerous Authority and sub-committee meetings.
  • Delivered a speech on policing cuts at the 2011 Labour Party conference and discussed the issue with the Chair of the Police Federation.
  • Raised the issue of policing cuts in the Council chamber as well as in the local, regional and national press.
  • Led the Labour team at the Leicestershire Police Authority in fighting to save nearly 200 jobs and helping to secure neighbourhood and frontline policing.
  • Attended a special conference on the ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ hosted by the Home Affairs Select Committee and Leicester East MP Keith Vaz.
  • Together with co-Councillors, approved funding for a local police community safety shop at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.

Education and young people:

  • Continued to work hard as a school governor at Soar Valley college and took on a new role as a governor at Beaumont Lodge primary school.
  • Delivered a speech on achievement at Soar Valley College in Rushey Mead.
  • Delivered a speech on aspiration at Babington College in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special conference on the application of new technologies in schools.
  • Took up an appointment as a Member of Court at the University of Leicester.
  • Attended summer fetes with co-Councillors at Glebelands primary and Beaumont Lodge primary schools, and the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association.
  • Delivered a speech at the University of Leicester in support of the ‘Living Wage’ campaign being run by Labour Students.

Health and community:

  • Helped set up and Chair a new community task group to tackle domestic violence in Beaumont Leys and Abbey.
  • Actively supported the campaign to save the children’s heart centre at the Glenfield General Hospital in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special event organised by the Somali community in Beaumont Leys.
  • Launched the British Heart Foundation’s Big Donation event at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.
  • Attended the official opening of the new Beaumont ward at the Bradgate Mental Health Unit in Beaumont Leys.
  • Visited a new locally-run free lunch club at Christ the King church.

Transport and environment:

  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of modernising Leicester train station.
  • Participated in a special climate change and water management conference.
  • Worked with co-Councillors and local businesses to help tackle parking problems in parts of north Beaumont Leys.
  • Became actively involved in the work of the Castle Hill Country Park user group.
  • Attended a special conference on local transport policy in Leicester.
  • Helped secure 11 new grit bins for locations throughout Beaumont Leys.

Housing:

  • Attended a special conference on student housing and future strategy.
  • Wrote an article about increasing levels of homelessness and spent Christmas Day helping at a local homeless shelter to raise awareness.
  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of the creation of new housing developments and student flats across the city.
  • Hosted public meetings with fellow Councillors, the local MP and the Mayor to discuss traveller encampments and the on-going consultation on proposed sites.

Business and jobs:

  • Agreed to join the board of the Cooke e-Learning Foundation, a Beaumont Leys  based enterprise helping people to train for jobs.
  • Attended a conference and dinner hosted by the Indo British Trade Council.
  • Visited the Beaumont Leys Enterprise Centre to support local businesses.
  • Spoke in the Council chamber on the economy and drafted an article on how the Budget will adversely affect Beaumont Leys.
  • Hosted the 2012 HSBC English Asian Business Awards in Manchester and worked to secure Leicester as the 2013 host city.

Social justice and charity:

  • Lobbied the Foreign Office and raised the issue of the Sri Lankan civil war with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP.
  • Attended numerous public events to oppose cuts to Legal Aid and lobbied the Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC MP on the issue.
  • Attended a fundraiser in support of ‘Unique Home for Girls’, a charity caring for orphaned and abandoned girls.
  • Visited the offices of Leicestershire AIDS Support Services and attended the annual World AIDS Day service at Leicester Cathedral.
  • Attended the launch of a 3-day festival organised by the Pushti Nidhi charity.

Culture and faith:

  • Met with Leicester Council of Faiths and attended events during inter-faith week.
  • Visited numerous places of worship across Leicester belonging to all of the city’s main faith communities.
  • Attended a concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra and an ‘Orchestra Unwrapped’ concert promoting music to school children.
  • Attended ‘Out of Africa’; an annual celebration of African culture hosted by Harvest City Church.
  • Attended an Inter-Cultural Evening hosted by the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police.
  • Attended a lecture on Hindu and Christian dialogue hosted by the Leicester Friends of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Attendance record at all Leicester City Council & Planning Committee meetings: 100%

The Bhagavad Gita in English – listen to all 18 chapters (MP3)

The Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture which forms part of the ancient Sanskrit epic ‘Mahabharata’. The Gita dates back thousands of years, and is a conversation that takes place on a battlefield between Lord Krishna and the hero prince Arjuna, in the midst of a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins, who have imposed tyranny on a disputed empire, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and as a prince. In doing so, Lord Krishna talks about yoga, samkhya, reincarnation, moksha, karma yoga, jnana yoga and other topics, all of which now form the core beliefs of Hinduism. Click below to hear the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12

Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18

 

My pilgrimage around Leicester

A very good friend of mine recently gave me a lovely book entitled ‘The Wisdom of the Hindu Gurus’. As I flicked through the first few pages a quote by Sri Aurobindo caught my eye: “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it embraces all others.” I really like this quote because it perfectly sums up the way I feel about God and religion, and the way in which I feel my spirituality has been enhanced in recent months.

On my 30th birthday last week I chose to spend the first half of the day by myself visiting 8 different places of worship around Leicester. My journey began at around 11am and over the course of 8 hours I visited the Progressive Jewish Synagogue, the Holy Cross Priory Catholic Church, the Jain Centre, the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, the Central Mosque, the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre, the Cathedral and the Shree Sanatan Mandir.

At the Synagogue I met a number of people and a gentleman named Alex gave me a tour. We had an interesting discussion about the history of the Abrahamic faiths as he showed me the Torah Scrolls. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alex was born almost exactly 50 years before I was and that he was planning to celebrate his 80th birthday in March. The stained glass window with the tree of life and the Ten Commandments looked really beautiful, particularly as it was such a sunny day.

After visiting the Synagogue I drove back into the city centre and attended Mass at the Holy Cross Priory Catholic church. I always enjoy visiting this church and I have been here several times before. The building itself is large and imposing and there is a stunning huge crucifix hanging from the ceiling. I walked around, lit a candle and quietly enjoyed the ambience, before taking a seat and observing Holy Mass which began at 12.30pm.

A short walk from the church is the Jain Centre, which like every one of the places I visited on my journey, is fascinating, welcoming and has a very distinct feel about it. The intricate wooden architecture surrounding the temple itself is simply breathtaking and the stained glass windows are a real sight to see. Apart from a lady who was attending to the deities I was the sole visitor in the temple that afternoon and I spent a very peaceful hour without uttering a single word.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is about a 5 minute walk from the Jain Centre. The thing I really love about visiting Gurdwaras is the contrast between the wonderful bustling atmosphere in the kitchen and the calm and peace inside the main temple. Again the sun was shining through the windows and again there were friendly people around eager to welcome a stranger in their midst. I wandered upstairs and spent a good while examining the many historical portraits that hang in the lobby of the Sikh museum. The museum is one of the features of this particular Gurdwara and well worth a visit.

A short drive from the Gurdwara is Leicester’s Central Mosque located behind the train station on Conduit Street. This was only my second ever visit to a mosque and unlike the first time where I was given a guided tour this time I was by myself.  The entire mosque was completely empty as it wasn’t a designated prayer time and so I sat alone in the enormous prayer hall as the sun shone through the many large windows. It was silent and tranquil and extremely beautiful and I also really enjoyed examining the Arabic calligraphy on the walls.

The wonderfully named World Peace Café at the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre was a hive of activity on the day I visited. It was really great to see so many people enjoying this delightful retreat on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon. The meditation room looked magnificent with a collection of deities and a large statue of Buddha as the central focal point. As I looked out of the windows of the meditation room I noticed a wall topped with rather vicious looking barbed wire; a very interesting juxtaposition between the serenity of this Holy room and the outside world.

After a quick chai tea and a visit to the gift shop I walked around the corner to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is one of my favourite places in the city and I’ve been here many times. The building itself is huge and there’s certainly a great deal to see, yet it also feels intimate and welcoming, and it’s hard not to feel at peace when spending time here. I had a long and pleasant conversation with a man named John who works here as a verger. We discussed everything from faith and family to prayer and politics. I hadn’t realised until my visit that the Cathedral is actually open every single day of the year, which I think is absolutely brilliant.

The final stop on my pilgrimage around Leicester was the Shree Sanatan Hindu Mandir in Belgrave. I have been to this temple numerous times and it is one of my favourite mandirs in the city. There was certainly a lot going on when I visited with people praying, talking, laughing and singing. It felt really vibrant and colourful. I always find that Hindu temples are particularly lively and exciting places to visit in the evening, which is when special aarti prayers take place.

I had a most uplifting and enjoyable experience visiting these 8 different places of worship around Leicester. I was warmly welcomed everywhere I went by people I had never met before, and not a single person asked me who I was, why I was there, or what faith I belonged to if any.

The thing that really struck me however wasn’t man-made at all. It was the brightness and the warmth of the sunlight which followed me around the city everywhere I went that day. Just as the sunlight lit up the tree of life at the Synagogue and the images of Lord Mahavira in the Jain Temple; so it also lit up the stained glass windows in the churches and the calligraphy on the walls of the Central Mosque.

The visual symbolism alone really blew my mind and it served to remind me that the life-giving, heart-warming and unconditional love of sunlight doesn’t differentiate between the many paths to God. I may have been wandering around Leicester by myself for 8 hours on that day, but with the sun on my face and with sunlight cascading through the windows everywhere I went, I certainly didn’t feel alone.

Top of the Popes

To honour the State Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI – Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God – I have compiled this Top 10 list of my favourite, historically interesting Popes:

1.   Pope Urban VII was the shortest reigning Pope in history. He became Pope on 15 September 1590,  and died a mere thirteen days later on 27 September 1590. His brief papacy gave rise to the world’s first known public smoking ban, when he threatened to excommunicate anyone who consumed tobacco in church.

2.   Pope Adrian IV was the only Englishman to ever become Pope. He reigned from 4 December 1154 to 1 September 1159. He was born circa 1100 in Abbots Langley, and his birth name was Nicolas Breakspear. He reputedly died from choking on a fly in his wine glass.

3.   Pope Gregory I is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers. He became Pope on 3 September 590 and died on 12 March 604. Gregorian chant music is named after him, but not the Gregorian calendar, which was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

4. Pope Pius IX was the longest reigning Pope, from 16 June 1846 to 7 February 1878, a period of 31 years and 236 days.  He formalised a system known as Peter’s Pence; an annual worldwide voluntary financial contribution paid by lay members of the Roman Catholic Church and other persons of goodwill. In 2009, Peter’s Pence raised $82,529,417.00 for the Vatican.

5.   Pope Lando became Pope around July or August 913, and reigned until his death around February or March 914. He was one of several Popes to reign during the Saeculum Obscurum; a period of some 60 years when the papacy was strongly influenced by the  powerful and corrupt Theophylacti family.

6.   Pope John Paul I was the first Pope in more than a thousand years to choose a completely new name for himself. His papacy lasted only 33 days in September 1978, making 1978 a “year of three Popes” for the first time since 1605. He is often referred to as the September Pope or the Smiling Pope. The year 1276 is the only year which saw four Popes on the Throne of St Peter.

7.   Pope Celestine V was the last Pope not to have been elected by a conclave. His papacy lasted five months and eight days, commencing on 7 July 1294, and ending with his abdication on 13 December 1294. He is best known for formalising the process by which a Pope could resign, and then relying on that process to tender his own resignation.

8.   Pope Benedict IX was the only man ever to have been Pope on more than one occasion, having held three separate papacies between 1032 and 1056. He was also the only Pope ever to sell the papacy, which he did briefly in May 1045 to his godfather, who proclaimed himself Gregory VI, before reclaiming the title by force a few months later.

9.   Pope Pius V, who reigned from 7 January 1566 to 1 May 1572, famously excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England on 27 April 1570, declaring her to be a heretic. He is also credited for introducing the wearing of white garments by a Pope.

10. Pope Victor I was the first Pope to have been born in the Roman Province of Africa. He reigned from 189 to 199, and is famous for introducing the Latin mass to Rome, which had until his papacy been conducted in Greek.

Why Labour is losing the Hindu vote

– Written exclusively for Labour Uncut –

There is an expectation within the Labour Party that ethnic minorities will remain loyal to the cause come what may. They won’t. In fact, not only is Labour losing popular support amongst British Hindus, but the Tories are making significant inroads into this once rock solid demographic. The trend is reversible, but we need to act decisively in the coming months and years to shore up our vote with Britain’s half a million strong Hindu community.

First, it is important to understand that Hinduism isn’t just a religion, it is a way of life. There is a great deal more than just religious belief that binds the British Hindu population together. It is also worth pointing out that the British Hindu community is becoming increasingly confident, organised and influential, with the emergence of several major umbrella organisations and think tanks in recent years.

Younger second and third generation British Hindus are at the forefront of a progressive revolution within the community. Traditional socio-political trendsetters, such as priests and “community elders”, have been comprehensively replaced by the likes of property developers, high-flying lawyers, and well-connected business people. One of the unfortunate corollaries, however, is that it’s now no longer seen as unfashionable or disloyal to vote Conservative. In some naïve quarters, it has even become something of a status symbol.

The Tory brand has lost it’s racist connotation and aura of elitism. Instead, the Conservative Party has successfully revamped itself as the party of strong family values, educational attainment and success in business. All of which strikes a deep chord with the average British Hindu voter, and with younger professionals in particular. The Conservatives are acutely aware of the benefits that come with increased support from an aspirational British Hindu electorate. David Cameron’s recent Indian jolly was just the latest in a series of concerted efforts to capitalise on Labour’s complacency.

In 1997, just as the Tories were about to be decimated nationally, an organisation called the British Asian Conservative Link was set up to improve the image of the Tory Party and foster better relations with British Asian voters. Their current general secretary, Rickie Sehgal, is a fine example of how strategic thinking on the part of the Tories has helped to deliver support from prominent Hindus.

Since being appointed ethnic minorities officer for Leicester West CLP several weeks ago, I have been speaking to  movers and shakers in Britain’s growing Hindu community. What I’ve been hearing has not made for comfortable listening.

Take Sanjay Mistry for example, vice president and media spokesman for the Hindu forum of Britain. He told me that research carried out by the organisation prior to the election found that support for Labour had fallen significantly, to 27% for Labour, 26% for the Conservatives, 21% for the Liberal Democrats, and 21% undecided.

The Hindu Forum of Britain also found that voting among British Hindus had become much more issues-focused in recent years. Crime, education, healthcare and the economy were the top areas of concern, with little regard for Hindu-specific issues such as cremations and religious rights and freedoms. Sanjay also told me that in his opinion:

“Hindu voters are more likely to vote for Labour if their policies advocate improvements to the economy, increased jobs and support for businesses. Should the Labour party move backward and more to the left, I believe they will lose support from the Hindu community.”

And I had similar responses from others. This from Sanjay Jagatia, Secretary General of the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK):

“In the early years the Labour government built strong links with the Hindu community, but in later years Hindus were marginalised and ignored. There was less effort and investment in engaging with the Hindu community compared to other faith communities. The economy was one of the biggest issues for Hindu voters at the last election and it remains so. I think that Hindu business leaders, entrepreneurs and economists are already more likely to support the Conservative party, and the Conservatives are generally gaining support from British Hindus.”

Kapil Dudakia, respected columnist and adviser to a number of Hindu organisations, is much more blunt in addressing why Labour has been losing support from British Hindus:

”The Hindu community has given Labour a lot of goodwill over many decades and many elections. However there is now a clear sense that whilst votes are accepted by the party, when it comes to doing something for the Hindu community there appears to be little in the way of substance. We still have serious inequalities and a lack of representation in government departments and other public bodies, there is comparatively limited support and capital funding for voluntary Hindu organisations, and there remains a distinct lack of Hindus being selected by Labour to stand in winnable seats, to name a few examples. Labour would do well to address these concerns by moving forwards into 2010 and beyond, rather than going back to the 1970s.”

So the message to Labour from British Hindus is clear. The issues which matter most to British Hindus are the same ones that matter to everybody else: health, education, crime, the economy. If you get these issues wrong, British Hindus will not support you. When it comes to Hindu-specific issues, though – like funding for community organisations and the selection of Hindu PPCs in Labour seats – British Hindus feel neglected and taken for granted.

Nevertheless, British Hindus still retain tremendous goodwill towards Labour. There is a shared history which still resonates. The party still starts every election with an advantage. But it is an advantage which Labour needs to work much harder to convert into votes. Labour needs to embrace the community again, engage with it directly and show it some respect. It’s not too late to stop the British Hindu slide away from Labour. But it soon will be.