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!

Leicester is already British and we’re proud of who we are

** Scroll down for updated comments following the Make Leicester British broadcast **

I first found out about Channel 4’s ‘Make Leicester British’ documentary when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. Many Leicester people including me have serious concerns about the way in which this programme will portray community relations in our city when it is aired on Monday night.

For one thing the trailer begins with the following statement: “In one of Britain’s most diverse cities immigration polarises opinion.” Most of us in Leicester know this is a lie. ‘Polarises’ is a very strong word. It implies there are major disagreements in our city and that immigration is a huge issue for local people. This is simply untrue.

The trailer then cuts to further statements from two different individuals: a man says “English society is losing its identity”; and a woman is then seen to say “I do not want any more people coming into this country; enough is enough!”

These are clearly very provocative statements, although I’m advised the programme will not be as inflammatory as the trailer would seem to suggest. Indeed it appears the trailer has been specifically designed to cause a reaction (and it worked) as well as to whip up a frenzy of viewers on Monday night.

It’s disappointing but unsurprising that Channel 4 regularly broadcasts controversial programmes such as this. ‘Benefits Street’ is another example.

Channel 4 would have us believe they are a bastion of liberal media and a guardian of social justice and equality in Britain. In reality Channel 4 is a commercial organisation and in the end it all comes down to profits and advertising revenues. The higher the viewing figures; the greater the income stream.

Immigration is one of many important issues we care about here in Leicester. But our people and our politicians do not talk irresponsibly about immigration or seek to blame immigrants for the ills of society. Leicester people by and large know that societal problems tend to stem from Tory policies, both past and present, which have always disproportionately favoured very rich people and big corporations.

visitleicesterIn any event I think it’s a disgrace that the programme is called “Make Leicester British”. As my friend and Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth tweeted recently “Leicester, proud of our rich diversity, already is British.”

It is extremely offensive for the programme makers and for Channel 4 to suggest our city is not British, or that our ‘Britishness’ has somehow been diluted by the arrival of immigrants, be it from Poland, Somalia, or anywhere else. We also don’t appreciate having some middle class, middle aged, middle management types from London defining what Britishness means to our people and our city.

In regards to the programme I think it’s highly unlikely a bunch of journalists from London visiting Leicester for a couple of weeks – who handpicked participants for an edited 90-minute broadcast – will have gained a sufficient understanding or experience of our beautiful city, our rich heritage, our cultural diversity, and the unity of our people. But let’s wait and see what kind of footage they put out on Monday night.

‘Make Leicester British’ will be shown on 3 November 2014 at 9pm on Channel 4

UPDATE

Having now watched ‘Make Leicester British’ I can make the following observations.

Just a few minutes into the broadcast I knew it would be utter garbage. The narrator referred to Leicester as a divided city, which is an outright lie. In-fact the programme was full of lies, i.e. claiming there were 53 mosques in Leicester when there are actually around 30.

I feel vindicated for having serious concerns about the way in which the programme would portray Leicester people. But I also knew the documentary was produced by the same people who gave us ‘Benefits Street’.

This was manufactured gutter television of the lowest order, designed to create controversy, boost ratings and advertising revenues, and advance the interests of the programme makers – not the political issues or the participants.

The show was sensationalist drivel passed off as a documentary. It entirely failed to reflect the true face of Leicester people. To top it off these visiting London journalists had the audacity to try to define what Britishness should mean to our city and our people.

Ultimately 8 days of footage was edited into 90 minutes of viewing to paint a particular narrative. Specifically, the programme makers wanted us to believe Leicester is divided and that immigration is a major issue in our city; neither of which is true.

The producers handpicked the participants and seemingly opted for people who held extreme views. Whilst this may have made good television – in the eyes of the programme makers – sadly all it demonstrated was that this was never meant to be a sensible, thought-provoking or reasonable documentary about immigration and its associated issues.

There was no factual discussion of the positive aspects of immigration, such as the fact immigrants have contributed more than £25 billion to the British economy. There was also no discussion of the welfare payments asylum seekers receive, which is a maximum of £36 per week.

Overall it was a disgraceful distortion of our city and our people. The programme entirely failed to properly debate the important issue of immigration in a mature and rational way. By ending with a few pithy examples of participants learning the error of their ways, this tacky programme tried to harvest some sense of dignity, and justify the need for its production.

It failed miserably on all counts and I’m sure most Leicester people would agree with me.

One Leicester

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

Marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

I visited Gilroes cemetery in Beaumont Leys earlier today to pay my respects on the 70th anniversary of D Day.

Leicester’s Gilroes cemetery contains 110 Commonwealth war graves from World War I and 160 from World War II. There is also a memorial in front of the crematorium which commemorates the 31 service personnel whose remains were cremated there.

The weather today was sunny and bright and it was very peaceful. There was a funeral taking place inside. Outside, tiny squirrels were darting about, picking off petals from the many floral tributes. It was just another ordinary day at the cemetery.

Seventy years ago however it was anything but an ordinary day for our country and for many countless men and women. The Normandy landings ultimately helped the Allies rescue the continent of Europe from the grip of hatred and injustice.

Everything we have in Britain, including the freedom to choose how to live our lives, is thanks to the bravery of countless extraordinary people who came before us. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. However we can honour their memories and sacrifices by ensuring that future generations never forget.

Memorial at Gilroes cemetery in Leicester

Congratulations to the people of India

“Congratulations to Narendra Modi, incoming Prime Minister of India, and the BJP / NDA on their emphatic election victory. Congratulations also to the many British Asians, and Non-Resident Indians living in Britain, who have been actively campaigning for this election result.

It has been fascinating to observe the politics of India in recent years and particularly the 2014 general election. It is a testament to the strength of Indian democracy that the campaign has been largely peaceful and that Congress and other political parties have humbly accepted the people’s verdict.

As the people of India choose a new path for their future, I sincerely wish that the country continues to prosper, and that India remains a global beacon for hard work and innovation. I also hope that relations between the Republic of India and the United Kingdom continue to go from strength to strength.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

The flags of the United Kingdom and Republic of India

Speech to Council on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers

My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Still Human Still HereI whole heartedly support Cllr Clarke’s motion and I’m really glad to see my fellow Labour Councillors taking a proactive and compassionate stance on this important humanitarian issue.

I think I might be one of a few people in this room whose parents and grandparents were in-fact refugees, and I’ve spoken previously on my family’s connection to Uganda.

I was having a conversation with my dad recently and he was telling me about how he and his family arrived in this country with £55 in their pockets.

He was also telling me about how the Ugandan military had put up many checkpoints along the route to the airport.

Families were routinely robbed of what little possessions they had. Worse still, women were taken from queues, only to be raped and murdered indiscriminately.

Ugandan Asian refugees arriving in BritainIt’s quite a horrific part of my own family history, but I think it certainly played an important role in my own upbringing, and the values that my parents instilled in me.

However I think it’s also true to say that we don’t necessarily need to have had a personal experience with the plight of refugees, in order to be able to empathise with it, to understand it and to want to see things change.

So I have a lot of time for decent, conscientious people who recognise that we have a moral human duty to try to help refugees.

And it’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud to be a Labour Party member and activist, because it is the Labour Party that has always stood up, for the rights of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. It is the Labour Party that has time again campaigned for social justice, and for Britain to play a leading role in the world, when it comes to offering humanitarian assistance.

Contrast this with the way the current government is playing party politics with the lives of refugees, whipping up fear and resentment, and failing to offer genuine help to many asylum seekers who have temporarily settled in Britain.

Visiting the Leicester Zimbabwean AssociationMany of you will be familiar with the case of my former constituent Evenia Mawongera, a grandmother who had fled to Britain some 10 years ago, who late last year was forcibly deported back to Zimbabwe.

Evenia had the support of her local church and Leicester’s strong and vibrant Zimbabwean community, many of whom live in Beaumont Leys. She also had the support of our City Mayor, the city’s 3 MPs, probably every councillor in this chamber, and many other agencies, community groups and even our local press.

And yet despite the best efforts of Leicester people to help one of their own, Home Secretary Theresa May refused to intervene.

After Evenia was deported back to Zimbabwe the Leicester Mercury ran an article in October 2013, reporting on the concerns of Evenia’s friends and family, who said that they had been unable to reach her, and that they feared for her safety.

Of course there are people who have legitimate fears about newcomers, whether they’re refugees or economic migrants; the biggest of which is an understandable concern about the finite resources that we have as a nation and as a city.

It’s right that these fears are addressed with respect and serious debate. But it’s also right that we understand and explain the very big difference between economic migrants and those who come here as refugees and asylum seekers.

I think another thing that people also worry about is the loss of British culture and British identity, almost as if Britishness was a tangible thing, and the more you dilute it, the weaker it becomes.

Britishness is a mindset and a way of lifeHowever I fundamentally disagree with this. In my view Britishness is a mind-set and a way of life. It exists in the hearts and minds of people who value what it is that makes our country great: from our civil liberties and social freedoms, to our respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law; from our sense of humour and our shared history, to our love of quirky things and our compassion for people and animals. And it is this sense of British compassion that we must tap into, to convince those in power and ordinary British people that it is both right and proper that we do our bit, to help refugees and asylum seekers.

Persecution abroad should not lead to destitution here, and those who arrive in Britain fearing for their lives, should be given sanctuary, shelter and support, so that they – just like my parents and grandparents – can work hard and contribute, to enriching this great nation of ours.

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.

The secret to happiness

In a way it’s a very bittersweet time of year. Many of us hope to spread happiness and joy to those we care about. At the same time we cannot ignore all the unhappiness in the world and the suffering that many people – and animals too – are being forced to endure.

Thankfully there are millions of decent conscientious people in our world of all backgrounds for whom the message of Christmas isn’t just confined to a few weeks in December. These are the same people who already spend so much time and energy trying to change our world for the better. And they are the same people who will continue to lead by example when all the festivities are over come January the 2nd.

There will come a time in the future when all suffering will be eliminated. This isn’t just a hope that I have but an absolute belief. Just as our species and the human body has gradually evolved and improved over millions of years, so human civilisation will also continue to become progressively enlightened.

A new world order is in our grasp and education is the key. Before the end of this century, science, truth, justice, peace and democracy will have become the fundamental pillars of life for all people, and medical science will have enhanced humanity beyond our wildest expectations. As we strive towards this new enlightenment however, I believe that we can and actively should encourage each other to be happier, and to embrace happiness as a way of life.

In a strange way happiness has become somewhat of a taboo subject. Those who are happy and those who seek to encourage greater happiness are often viewed with suspicion. I suspect this may be because for centuries the promise of happiness has been used by individuals and groups of people the world over to exploit fellow human beings. Even today we can do a simple online search to find countless people willing to help you find happiness – for a price.

Suspicions aside (hopefully) how many of us actually spend time really thinking about happiness or about ‘being happy’? Is it something that we allow our minds, bodies and souls to experience? Or do we more often than not delegate the idea of being happy to our future selves?

Sadly it is so much easier for us to focus on what we need and what we lack; on what we hate and on what causes us physical or emotional pain. Many people simply avoid thinking about happiness altogether, believing that it will inevitably come into their lives just as soon as they have enough money, and thus the freedom to purchase goods and services.

Whilst happiness is of course very subjective and personal to each and every one of us, philosophers and faith traditions throughout history have always cautioned against seeking happiness through money alone. Moreover studies have shown time and again that there’s more to happiness than just wealth and material possession.

A Gallup poll released just this week for example surveyed 150,000 people around the world and found that 7 of the 10 happiest nations on Earth are in Latin America. These countries, which included the likes of Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica, also happen to be amongst the poorest nations in the world.

Happiness is by no means a fixed concept. Even today, scientists and scholars are trying to define, re-define and better understand exactly what happiness is and how we can experience it. Quite understandably then, there are numerous theories and approaches which seek to explain happiness, or at least identify the key ingredients from which it may be produced.

Psychologist Martin Seligman explained that happiness was an amalgamation of 5 things: pleasure; engaging activities; relationships with others; meaning and belonging; and accomplishments. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation, which has become a fundamental principle in the world of business, consists of a hierarchy of 5 essential needs: physiological needs; safety; love / belonging; esteem; and self-actualisation.

Aristotle believed that unlike riches, honour, health or friendship; happiness was the only thing that humans desired for its own sake. He considered happiness to be an activity rather than an emotion or a physical state, and that ‘activity’ was the ‘practice of virtue’. The Buddhist approach is beautifully simple and an idea that I firmly agree with: compassion and generosity is more fun, and more fun leads to increased happiness! Put another way, the secret to happiness is making other living beings happy through compassion and generosity.

I believe that happiness begins in the mind through meditation. Also known as positive thinking or having a positive mental attitude, it is by far the easiest and most beneficial act that any one of us can take – to actually think ourselves happy. To create within our own personal consciousness a state of mental and emotional well-being, which in turn flows outwards like ripples in a pond, and encompasses our physical bodies and the world around us. Interestingly it would seem that science and evolution also concurs with this approach.

The human brain weighs around three pounds and has tripled in size as our ancestors evolved over the last 2 million years. Thanks to our frontal lobes, we as a species are now completely unique in the world, in that we have the ability to simulate the future and visualise actions or products before they exist in real life.

This also gives us the psychological ability to ‘synthesise happiness’ and to change our view of the world, so as to make ourselves feel better about our circumstances. In other words, we have what it takes within our own minds to create happiness and to feel happier, irrespective of the world around us. Having a positive mental attitude therefore – and thinking positive – actually works!

This extraordinary finding has been backed up with reliable data and scientific study by the eminent Harvard psychologist Professor Dan Gilbert. Gilbert also suggests that paradoxically we believe that synthetic happiness is not the same as natural happiness. That is to say, people assume that self-taught, self-proclaimed happiness is not as enriching or as rewarding as the happiness that comes from actually getting something that we want.

However his research has also found that this assumption is mistaken. When measured in controlled experiments, Gilbert found that “synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for”. Whilst some may mock the idea of synthetic happiness, in the real world and in the human mind, there is no differential between synthetic happiness and naturally occurring happiness.

So there we have it: the secret to happiness is to ‘fake it until you make it’. You can either be unhappy or less happy until you find happiness by getting what you want, or you can create happiness seemingly out of nothingness inside your own mind; a happiness that will be beneficial and fulfilling to your emotional, mental and physical well-being, and allow you to spread even greater happiness to other living beings through compassion and generosity.

Ultimately, I believe we need a lot more happiness in the world, and I think we shouldn’t be afraid to do something about it.

I wish all my friends, relatives, colleagues and constituents a very happy Christmas, a very happy New Year, and a very happy and fulfilling future.

Clarissa Dickson Wrong

Letter published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 28 November 2012

I was dismayed to read this letter from T Green in the Mercury on 22 November; one of several recent letters and online comments from people jumping on the Clarissa Dickson Wright bandwagon. Thankfully I’ve also seen more sensible letters from Ann Collins and Eddie Sentance amongst others, reflecting the true face of Leicester people, and the common decency and human compassion that most of us share.

Firstly in response to T Green: I hate to break it to you, but you appear to be suffering from a bout of xenophobia. Take 2 visits with friends to an Indian restaurant and perhaps a place of worship, followed by a long hard look in the mirror. If symptoms persist contact your nearest library and try reading a few good books. Before long you will discover that humans of different ethnicity are biologically identical, and that different cultures – like different languages – are not something to be afraid of, but something to be embraced; i.e. you have to make a bit of an effort in order to understand something that’s a tad different to what you’re used to. Good luck with your recovery!

As for poor Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the things she said in her widely reported remarks was that she once got lost in a part of Leicester and none of the Muslim men would talk to her. Well to be honest I’m not Muslim myself, but if fox-hunting enthusiast Clarissa Dickson Wright came barrelling towards me on a Leicester side street, I’d probably ignore her too. On a serious note I did find her comments about Leicester to be both idiotic and exaggerated. But it was one particular phrase that really caught my attention, where she casually questioned whether or not multiculturalism actually works.

Now of course I don’t have enough column inches here to run through all the reasoned arguments as to why multiculturalism does work, has worked and will continue to work in the future. (Or for that matter to try and give Clarissa Dickson Wright and all her fans a much needed education). But for the sake of brevity I will simply say this: Saint George was an Arab, the Royal family is German, our national dish is Indian and our most gifted Olympians are of African descent. Questioning multiculturalism is akin to questioning evolution: both are part and parcel of the human story. The sooner we accept that and move on to creating for ourselves a life of purpose and fulfilment in this increasingly globalised society, the better off we’ll be.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Four More Years

When it comes to US politics I must confess to being an Americaholic; on any given day I’d much rather have a State of the Union over a Sambuca, or a presidential primary instead of a Pinot Grigio. Perhaps understandably then Tuesday’s election result has left me feeling positively intoxicated.

What an incredible night it was for progressive politics! Not only was President Barack Obama re-elected for another 4-year term with a majority in the Electoral College, a majority of the popular vote and a majority of US States under his belt; but it was also a stunning victory for the centre-left and for equality, for fairness and for secular values.

Although as expected the Democrats did not take control of the House, they did make some gains, and they did retain control of the Senate. In addition there were also a number of spectacular progressive fireworks that went off with a bang on election night: gay marriage legalised in Washington, Maine and Maryland; marijuana use legalised in Colorado and Washington; and the first ever openly gay person elected as a Senator.

At the same time, an attempt to define marriage as being between a man and a woman was rejected in Minnesota, and two rather vile Republican Senate candidates failed to win their respective elections: Todd Akin, who said that the female body had a way of shutting down pregnancies in cases of ‘legitimate rape’, quite rightly lost in Missouri; and Richard Mourdock, who said that a pregnancy which resulted from rape would be ‘something that God intended to happen’, failed to win the Senate seat in Indiana.

I’ve been following the 2012 presidential election for around 18 months: the Republican primaries; both party conventions; and high profile events such as the Al Smith dinner. I correctly predicted on my website way back in January that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee and that Barack Obama would be re-elected by a comfortable margin. Thankfully the President did better than I anticipated in the Electoral College.

For me the excitement of election day began at midnight on the US east coast (5am GMT on Tuesday 6 November) when I tuned in to CNN to watch the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire go to the polls. All 10 registered voters cast their ballots just after 12am and these were then totalled up. For the first time in the history of this wonderful American election quirk the result was a tie; 5 votes for Barack Obama and 5 votes for Mitt Romney!

On election night itself I was suitably stocked up with American food, and I watched the drama unfold live on CNN from 10pm until around 7am GMT, when President Obama finished delivering his victory speech. At 7.30am I did a live radio interview with Jonathan Lampon on BBC Leicester. I thought Jonathan did an excellent job on his breakfast show that morning discussing the US election; David Dimbleby and friends over on BBC 1 could certainly learn a thing or two from him.

Best of all I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share the thrill of election night with friends on Twitter and Facebook. Of course all political parties are now acutely aware of the significant role that social media has in modern political campaigning. In-fact President Obama’s re-election campaign went far beyond plain old social media and was by far the most sophisticated and technologically advanced political campaign in the history of the world.

For one thing the campaign employed micro-targeting ‘data-mining’ techniques to better understand who individual voters were and how they’d respond to various campaign messages. By extrapolating publicly available information and purchasing commercially-obtained data on everything from magazine subscriptions, spending habits, preferred holiday destinations etc., the campaign was able to hone and effectively deliver personalised messages to people in swing states, inspiring them to get out and vote.

Another strategy was to incorporate Facebook and other social media into their mobile phone app, which was made freely available to millions of people. By doing this the Obama-Biden campaign was able to send personal vote recommendations to people in swing states from their friends right across the nation, i.e. a voter living in the swing state of Ohio was reminded on polling day that her friends in the safe Democratic state of New York were voting for Obama, and they were encouraging her to do the same. This wasn’t just an improved presidential election campaign: this was a generational shift; an evolution in political campaigning and something from which the British Labour Party could learn a great deal.

‘But was it worth it?’ a cynic may ask. With nearly six billion dollars (that’s $6,000,000,000) spent over 18 months by Democrats, Republicans and their supportive Super PACs – the White House and Senate stayed Democratic blue – and the House of Representatives remained Republican red. Was it worth it? Well yes and no.

Of course the American political system is broken; not just in the absurd amounts of money required to stand for public office, but quite literally broken – people were having to queue for several hours to vote in states like Florida, Virginia and New York. One cannot help but ask how a country that purports to be the modern cradle of western democracy can be so bad at holding elections?

However speaking as a Democrat and following a convincing win by President Obama I would of course say that it was worth it. The US economy is now recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression; 30 consecutive months of growth is an achievement in itself. The Obama administration has also overseen the creation of more than 5 million new jobs, ended the war in Iraq, saved the American car industry, and championed social equality; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being two examples.

Most importantly of all however and the highlight of this entire election: Obamacare is here to stay for all Americans. Make no mistake; achieving universal health care will be the crowning glory of President Obama’s legacy in years to come – it is for Obama what the New Deal was for FDR. For this alone the Democrats deserve to be re-elected to the White House in 2016; although that will only happen if the economy continues to improve in the intervening years.

President Obama’s re-election is also good news for the rest of the world. The administration will continue to help end or prevent conflicts (both philosophically and practically) in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel / Palestine and in a post-Arab Spring world generally. Furthermore an improving US economy is particularly good for us here in Britain.

Just as the US banking system crumpled under the rot of complex derivatives built on sub-prime lending – pulling down European economies along the way – so a strong improving US economy will have a tangible positive impact on our economy. For one thing the United States is our largest export partner; if they’re not buying, we’re not selling!

Without meaning to state the bleeding obvious, the result of the election was not just a win for President Obama; it was also a loss for Mitt Romney. So why did Romney lose? Well there are a number of peripheral reasons and then there’s the big kahuna, which I shall come to in a moment.

Firstly Romney had – as the Obama campaign so expertly managed to portray – a track record for putting profits before people and stripping companies of workers in order to benefit shareholders. It is simply extraordinary that the Romney campaign was forced to play defence so often during the campaign for what was in fairness a rather successful business career at Bain Capital.

Secondly he flip-flopped on abortion and other social issues such as gay rights, running away from his moderate past as a Governor in liberal Massachusetts, and becoming a ‘severe conservative’ (his words) in order to win the Republican primary. Thirdly, he had introduced a universal healthcare mandate in Massachusetts – which was meant to be the crowning glory of his own legacy – and then ran against President Obama for introducing a similar thing nationwide! That in itself was completely absurd.

Fourthly, and perhaps the single most damaging thing that Romney said over the course of the election campaign; he was caught on a secret video recording at an expensive fundraiser writing off 47% of the electorate. If only one of his aides had told him what he needed to know: when trying to win an election it is best to avoid labelling half of the voting public as victims and admitting that you don’t care about them.

Romney also faced a great deal of hostility for being religious; something almost unheard of in previous US presidential elections. The Christian evangelical right viewed him with suspicion for being a Mormon. (I recall an episode of Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN where Franklin Graham – a well-known American Christian evangelist and missionary – refused to say that Mormonism is a form of Christianity and thus, refused to confirm that Mitt Romney was indeed a Christian.)

At the other end of the spectrum Romney was routinely and repeatedly criticised for being overtly religious and for supposedly allowing his Mormonism to adversely affect his worldview. (I lost count of the number of times that Richard Dawkins kept referring to him as ‘Bishop Romney’ on Twitter).

Now for the big kahuna: Romney lost for the simple reason that he was running as a Republican. The so-called Grand Old Party still has a toxic brand and when it comes to the presidency the Republicans remain completely unelectable.

This is primarily – but not exclusively – for the following three reasons: a) tangible and reputational damage done by the George W Bush administration particularly on the economy; b) for being hijacked and transformed from a political ideology into a religious theology by Tea Party nutters and Christian evangelicals; and c) focusing too narrowly on shrinking demographics and essentially becoming the party of older white Christian male heterosexuals.

In 2008 18-to-29 year olds made up 18% of those who turned out to vote. This year that figure increased to 19%, and of those who voted, more than 60% voted for President Obama. When it comes to minorities, President Obama won them over convincingly; 93% of African Americans (13% of the total turnout), 71% of Latinos (10% of the total turnout), and 73% of Asians (3% of the total turnout). Roughly 39% of whites backed Obama compared to 59% for Romney (72% of the total turnout). In addition 76% of the LGBT electorate voted for Obama (5% of the total turnout).

Women were the overall key to President Obama’s victory however. Not only did women make up 53% of the total turnout, but 55% of them voted for President Obama. It’s well known fact that without women voters, the Democratic Party in America and the Labour Party here in Britain would never win elections; so let’s please take a minute to thank God for all the women of the world!

Were there any other factors at play in this election? Yes absolutely there were. In the blue corner we had the comeback kid himself, former President Bill Clinton; the talented David Axelrod, Jim Messina, Joel Benenson, David Plouffe, Valerie Jarrett and all of President Obama’s top team; the genius pollster Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog; the left leaning magazine Mother Jones which broke Romney’s 47% gaffe; the wonderful Michelle Obama who gave an extraordinary Convention speech; New Jersey Governor Chris Christi who by praising Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy reminded the nation of why they fell in love with the President in the first place; Osama Bin Laden, whose capture and termination undoubtedly helped President Obama win more votes; and then of course, there was Big Bird.

In the red corner we had the increasingly unfashionable ‘Tea Party’ backing the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and other right wing extremists; Clint Eastwood, who upstaged Romney before his Convention acceptance speech by ‘arguing’ with an empty chair; angry megalomaniac Donald Trump, who had a bizarre meltdown on Twitter on election night; Karl Rove, arguably the modern face of the GOP, who also had quite a tantrum on election night on Fox News; multi-millionaire casino owner Sheldon Anderson who spent $100 million dollars on Romney’s campaign and stood to save $2 billion in tax cuts; Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who publicly accused the White House of manipulating unemployment figures; and then of course there was that first debate which in all fairness did help Romney a great deal.

Ultimately the Democrats succeeded in turning an election that should have been predominantly about the economy into an election that was also about social issues. According to fascinating exit polls from CNN, 59% of all people who turned out to vote on election day believed that abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances; quite a statistical nightmare for dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.

To be perfectly honest I have no sympathy for the Republicans. After all, this is the party that wants the Government off your back, but firmly inside your womb and / or bedroom – it is both ridiculous and indefensible. If the Republicans are serious about winning the White House in 2016 they need to modernise big time, particularly on immigration; an issue which continues to diminish their support amongst Hispanics at every election. Moreover they need to revert back to being a party of political ideas and problem solving, instead of a Christian crusade in all but name and a relic of the Deep South.

A lot of people – myself included – went into hyperbole overdrive following the outcome of this election; but the truth is, it really was historic. Not only have the American people now elected an African-American, northern, liberal, intellectual as their President – twice. But this election was also the first time in US political history where a President stood up and explicitly championed women’s rights, gay rights, fairer taxes and social justice during a presidential campaign.

This in itself was extraordinary, and as former Governor Howard Dean put it on BBC Newsnight recently, the American people “rejected racism, rejected homophobia and rejected misogyny”. They did this by vehemently rejecting the Republican Party and everything that it currently stands for. And I for one am very glad that they did.

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Speech to Council: motion to recognise the contribution of Ugandan Asians

Click here to watch my speech on the Leicester City Council webcast video archive.

Speech delivered at a Leicester City Council meeting on 13 September 2012

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian immigrants who came to this city with virtually nothing, it gives me great pride to bring this motion before Council tonight.

In August 1972 the entire Asian population of Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave the country or face being put into concentration camps. Some 80,000 men, women and children were stripped of all their possessions and forced to leave the only home they had ever known.

Around a third of the Ugandan Asian population held British passports. The Tory Government at the time initially tried to avoid letting them come here, but after weeks of wrangling the Government relented, and a huge resettlement effort began. In the end more than 25,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK and around 10,000 moved to Leicester.

Here in Britain 1972 was a difficult year. With an oil crisis, a three-day week and crippling strikes; the economy was stagnating and times were tough for almost everyone. In addition there were widespread anti-immigration protests throughout Britain, spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

The people of Leicester and the Council at the time were reluctant to see a huge influx of new arrivals. But 40 years on Leicester is a very different place; a much better place. By living together, working together and going to school together, communities in Leicester have become more integrated and multiculturalism is part of everyday life.

When the Ugandan Asians came to Leicester they settled mainly in Highfields and Belgrave where housing was cheap. Despite an ailing economy there were plenty of manual jobs and Ugandan Asians ended up working in factories and businesses such as Imperial Typewriters, Thorn Lighting, Leicester Garments, Wilkinson’s and the British United Shoe Machinery Company to name a few.

It was in the factories and on the shop floors that barriers began to break down between the native British population and the newcomers from Uganda. If discrimination did occur, Ugandan Asians found solidarity with those in the trade union movement; a strong and vital link that remains just as important today as it was back then.

And on the subject of discrimination let me say categorically that we in the Labour Party have always and will always stand for core socialist values of equality and fairness. And that is why we condemn today those, particularly on the far right, who seek to discourage people who are fleeing persecution, from coming here. Yesterday’s National Front are today’s BNP and EDL, and we must never be complacent about the threat they pose or the damage they do, even from a brief visit to our city.

In theory the Ugandan Asians who came here fleeing persecution were refugees, but in practise they lived and behaved like economic migrants; not seeking hand outs but working hard, not taking from society but contributing to it. And – as the Prime Minister said in the Commons yesterday – the contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the United Kingdom has been ‘extraordinary’.

Those who came to Leicester were strong-willed, hardworking and entrepreneurial. They brought with them an excellent work ethic, core family values, a respect for others and an appreciation of the need to obtain a good education – values that all of us can identify with.

Some of those who were expelled ran successful businesses in Uganda. Here in Britain many had to start again from scratch – which they did – building multi-million pound businesses, and working to help their children become the doctors, lawyers and accountants of tomorrow.

40 years ago the people of Leicester accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change. Today our city is not only at peace with its diversity but proud of it. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from our food to our fashion, from our festivals to our friendships.

My Lord Mayor, it is right and proper that we acknowledge the contribution that all communities have made and that we thank all the people of Leicester for making our city what it is.

But tonight we pause to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians fleeing persecution and formally recognise the contribution that they have made to the fabric of our city.

I hope that the inter-cultural harmony and social cohesion that we enjoy here in Leicester continues to go from strength-to-strength, and I pay tribute to the values and achievements of the Ugandan Asian community in Britain, and the awesome impact they have had on this great city of ours.

Thank you.

Marking the 40th anniversary of Ugandan Asians in Leicester

This has been a truly historic year for our city. Not only did we celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in style by welcoming Her Majesty to Leicester; we also played host to both the Olympic and Paralympic flames.

But 2012 also has another historical significance for us here in Leicester as we mark the fortieth anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asian immigrants to the city.

In 1972 all Asian people in Uganda were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave or face being put into concentration camps. Most were lucky to escape with their lives but they had virtually everything taken away from them.

Around 25,000 Ugandan Asians held British passports. However; despite this, the Conservative Government at the time tried desperately to avoid letting them come here.

Britain was a very different place in 1972: the economy was stagnating with strikes and a three-day week; and there were anti-immigration protests across the country spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

In the end, the Government relented and a huge resettlement effort began. More than 10,000 Ugandan Asians eventually settled in Leicester, and my father and his family were among them.

The impact of the Ugandan Asian migration has been immense. In the beginning, when Leicester’s manufacturing base was in decline, the arrival of thousands of hardworking entrepreneurial people breathed new life into the city’s economy.

Over these last 40 years we’ve seen our very own Little India develop around the Golden Mile. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from food to fashion, from festivals to friendships.

For me, Leicester isn’t just the city that I happen to have been born in, Leicester is a community of kind-hearted and decent people; a community that 40 years ago accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change; and a community that is now not only at peace with its diversity, but proud of it.

As the son and grandson of immigrants, who was born and raised on a Leicester Council estate, it fills me with great pride that I’m now able to serve Leicester residents of all backgrounds as an elected representative on the City Council.

This Thursday evening I will proudly put forward a motion in the Council chamber – with the support of my Labour colleagues – to publicly recognise the significant contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the social, economic and cultural life of our city.

Here’s to whatever the future may bring for our One Leicester community.

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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This is the full text of the motion that I will bring to Council on 13 September 2012:

“This Council marks the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians seeking refuge in the city of Leicester. We recognise the hard work and determination of the Ugandan Asian community and the significant contribution that they have made to the social, economic and cultural life of our city. We condemn efforts to discourage those fleeing persecution from coming here, and we are as proud today as we have always been to celebrate the diversity and unity, that makes Leicester such a wonderful place to live and work.”

Click here to read more about why I’m bringing this motion to Council. Also click the video below to watch a recent interview that I gave to Citizens Eye on this issue.

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.

US Presidential election 2012 – early prediction

Update: Click here for my analysis of the 2012 US election results

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Jan 2012: Here’s my early prediction of the outcome of this year’s US Presidential election. I think Democratic candidate Barack Obama will narrowly win a second term as President with 295 electoral college votes, just ahead of his Republican rival on 243.

I expect the Republicans will eventually nominate Mitt Romney to be their candidate. However if the dramatic result of the GOP caucuses in Iowa is anything to go by, it certainly promises to be a fascinating contest.

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UPDATE – 26 October 2012

Based on everything I’ve seen and read over the last 10 months of this extraordinary election campaign I have 2 revisions to make to my forecast from January. I think INDIANA will vote for Romney instead of Obama (11 electoral college votes). However I also think that IOWA will vote for Obama instead of Romney (6 electoral college votes). Overall I predict that President Obama will be re-elected with the following result:

Democrat Barack Obama: 290 electoral college votes

Republican Mitt Romney: 248 electoral college votes

Is racism on the rise?

Hundreds of thousands of people have now clicked online to view this shocking YouTube video that went viral earlier today. The clip shows a 34-year-old woman shouting racist abuse to strangers on a tram during a seemingly unprovoked tirade. The woman, who has since been arrested by police, was carrying a young toddler on her lap throughout the incident. A full transcript of her racist rant can be found here.

For me this is just the latest race-related story that has caught my attention in recent weeks. Take Irish Fine Gael councillor Darren Scully for example, who was forced to resign as Mayor of Naas after refusing to represent black constituents, because he found them aggressive and bad mannered. Then there’s FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who eventually apologised after facing widespread condemnation for saying that racism isn’t too big a problem in football, and should simply be settled by a handshake.

And who can forget historian David Starkey’s now infamous BBC Newsnight appearance, in which he quoted from Enoch Powell, blamed the August riots on black Jamaican culture and said that “the whites had become black”. Bizarrely he was cleared of making ‘racist’ remarks by Ofcom despite there being more than 100 complaints.

But it’s not just public figures that have been getting into hot water on the topic of race. In the shadow of the ongoing Stephen Lawrence murder trial most of us can recall the findings of the Macpherson Report, which branded the Metropolitan Police as “institutionally racist”, and called for wider reform of the civil service, local government, the NHS, schools and the judiciary, to address issues of institutional racism.

With statistics showing that black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and Asian people are 42 times more like to be held under anti-terrorism legislation, a recent study by the Guardian has also found that ethnic minority defendants are far more likely to be jailed for certain crimes than white defendants.

Just last week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also accused the banks of racism, claiming that firms owned by individuals of black African backgrounds are 4 times more likely to be denied loans outright, than their white counterparts.

Most of these stories are relatively recent and these are just the ones I know about. Goodness knows how many other similar stories get picked up in regional news reports and local papers up and down the country on a day-to-day basis. Hats off to the Guardian for taking a proactive approach and creating an entire “Race Issues” section on their website.

I’ve always thought of racism as a lot like the common cold: it’s a disgusting condition which rears its ugly head from time-to-time in people from all walks of life, and the best way to avoid catching a bout is to stay away from infected people, i.e. fascists. Most worryingly, racism has also become all too commonplace in our society and for many people it’s just another ordinary part of everyday life.

I believe that despite all our best efforts racism in Britain may well be on the rise, and with the economy in poor shape and levels of unemployment and poverty increasing, things will only get worse before they get better.

I’ve also noticed that people are all too quick to try and find an alternative explanation for language or behaviour that is clearly racist. Sometimes this is through ignorance or naivety, but more often than not it’s because admitting that something is racist can be extremely awkward and unpalatable, particularly in a social setting.

The one thing we can all do to help address the problem is to not let our families and friends get away with adopting a dismissive approach, but instead be direct, vocal and clear about the meaning of racism, and how completely unacceptable it is.

rac·ism

noun /ˈrāˌsizəm/
  1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
  2. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.

Beaumont Leys: “a town within a city”

A local resident said to me the other day that we’re very lucky here in Beaumont Leys, as we have everything we need right on our doorstep – and he’s absolutely right!

We have a great deal to offer local residents and visitors to the area. Indeed, earlier this month we played host to the East Midlands Labour Party, who held their bi-annual regional conference at the NSPCC National Training Centre.

Beaumont Leys is an increasingly popular and up-and-coming part of Leicester. In terms of geography, Beaumont Leys is the largest ward in the city, covering approximately 8 square miles. We’ve got a population of roughly 16,000 and there are more than 6,500 homes. We’ve also got a major urban development in the offing, which is likely to see an increase in resident numbers and homes in the coming years.

So to anyone out there looking to move house or relocate their business, or perhaps looking to visit an area that boasts excellent shopping and leisure facilities with wonderful green open spaces, I say come and pay us a visit here in Beaumont Leys.

We have all the facilities and peace and quiet of a small town, with all the benefits and transport infrastructure that comes with being part of a large city. And of course we have the best people in the world!

Lest we forget

In a place called Patcham just outside Brighton on the south coast of England, there is an impressive white domed pillared structure called The Chattri. Upon this war memorial inscribed in English and Hindi it says:

“To the memory of all the Indian soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their King Emperor this monument erected on the site where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated.”

Over 12,000 wounded Indian soldiers passed through the Brighton and Hove hospitals during the Great War, and The Chattri memorial is built on the same spot where 53 bodies were cremated, with the ashes later scattered into the sea.

These are just 53 of the millions of reasons why I, as a young British man of Indian descent, wear my poppy with pride at this time of year. 

For me, this ultimate sacrifice that my fellow British countrymen have given over the course of our shared history, means that I have been indebted to them, from the very moment that I was born.

Although we here in Britain have had our fair share of struggles in a less visible but no less essential movement for civil rights for persons of ethnicity, I am confident that we as a people are more united and integrated than others would have us believe.

And it is through our shared history and heartache, our sacrifices and our defence of freedom and the rule of law, that we have gradually shaped and strengthened the bonds which now unite us as a society.

As we second and third generation British-Asians grow up, advance within our careers and create families of our own, far from being confused or unsure as to why people wear poppies or even whether we, as members of minority ethnic communities can or should also wear them, I sincerely hope that one simple truth is borne in mind.

A poppy is a subtle and dignified public display of unity. Unity with all the countless men and women who have given up their lives fighting for the ideals which make our country what it is, and upon whose sacrifice we can live free, and under the equal protection of the law. Whatever our backgrounds or our upbringing, whatever our political, cultural or religious beliefs, the simple truth is that without the sacrifices of generations of brave individuals that have come before us, we would not be blessed with all that we have, and with all those whom we love. 

Lest we forget.

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.

Jai Hind

Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he | Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā
Punjāba Sind Gujarāṭa Marāṭhā | Drāviḍa Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himāchala Yamunā Gangā | Ucchala jaladhi taranga
Tava śubha nāme jāge | Tava śubha āśiṣa māge
Gāhe tava jaya gāthā | Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he
Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta | Jaya he jaya he jaya he
Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!

The world is not enough

The map of the world that most of us are familiar with, isn’t strictly accurate. The popular Mercator projection map of 1569 inflates the size of land mass moving away from the equator. As much of the developing world lies near the equator, these countries appear smaller and less significant, like the continent of Africa for example which appears the same size as Greenland. The Gall-Peters projection map of 1973 by contrast provides a far more accurate interpretation, correctly reflecting areas of equal size on the globe, and thereby restoring less powerful nations to their correct proportions. This clip from The West Wing sums it up brilliantly:

Welcome to my world

A BlackBerry is not just a mobile phone. To think of it as such is akin to labelling Leonardo Da Vinci a good painter and decorator, or the Great Wall of China a sturdy fence. No, a BlackBerry is a “life organiser”. A modern day Triquarter that can neatly press, fold and deliver the sum of all human knowledge to ones fingertips with all the sophistication of a Mercedes Benz. If sliced bread could talk, it would use the invention of the BlackBerry as a benchmark.

This extraordinary device has, if you’ll pardon the pun, taken the legal profession by Storm. A cacophony of legal applications are now being rolled out, with hybrid software that can already record dictation, edit and view Office and PDF documents, and capture billable units from calls and emails, to name but a few examples.

However the biggest appeal for lawyers surely has to be the way in which a BlackBerry simply gets on with the job, without faffing about. The language is clear, the features are straightforward and the integrated technology is effortless. Indeed the whole BlackBerry resin d’etre could probably be defined in three words – simplicity, efficiency and ingenuity – and this is something that more and more law firms are beginning to clock on to.

And when it comes to keeping up with business trends, we all know that any lawyer worth their salt needs to have a decent online presence, in order to build relationships with fellow professionals and potential clients. Thankfully a BlackBerry can easily integrate a multitude of social networks with the robust functionality of a Swiss army knife (although the Facebook application is admittedly rather poor).

So why do I have a BlackBerry? Well for a start I want clear, concise and accurate information without delay so that I can make quick informed decisions. I also want to be able to plan my next hour, day or week in seconds, not minutes, and spend as little time as possible entering details into my phone, learning how to operate some new fangled software or going back and having to correct a dozen mistakes, courtesy of a grimy unreliable touchscreen.

The truth is a BlackBerry has your best interests at heart. It understands how you work and it’s on your side. It’s not going to try and sell you applications you don’t need or games you’ll never play. It’s not going to make you feel out of touch if you don’t happen to have the latest version. And it’s not going to suck money from your wallet like some kind of vibrating leech should you happen to drop it.

What it will do however, is give you what you want, when you want it. A functional, professional and reliable personal assistant, ready to synchronise your world, maximise your productivity, and free up some much needed time. Case in point, I’ve just written this on my BlackBerry sitting on a packed Piccadilly Line train, somewhere under West London. Welcome to my world.