By Shaun Bailey Conservative candidate for London Mayor
WHATEVER our religion and whatever our background, we’re all learning to deal with lockdown and coronavirus restrictions.
So it goes without saying that the new normal will affect the celebration of light and new beginnings. But that doesn’t mean Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas will be any less meaningful this year.
You may not be able to gather in the same numbers, but you’ll be joined in spirit with your friends and family. You may not be able to share food and stories; but you’ll share the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness.
These values are eternal, and in difficult times, they’re more important than ever. So I hope that the Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities in London and across the country can find even greater meaning in the Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas celebrations this year.
As a matter of fact, the values that underpin Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism – values of hard work, of doing the right thing, of faith and family – are the values that underpin the British Asian contribution to this country.
British Asian entrepreneurs are the backbone of our economy. Shop in Asda, recently taken over by the Issa brothers – two boys from Blackburn done good – and you’re now in a British Asian business. Take a trip to the Olympic Park in the capital to see the UK’s tallest sculpture, the Orbit, and you’ll see an artwork made possible by Lakshmi Mittal. Walk down any London street and you’ll go past any number of British Asian owned businesses.
It’s the same with our cultural life. From actors like Dev Patel and Sanjeev Bhaskar to the boy from Bradford Zayn Malik, our cultural life is enriched by the contributions of British Asians. The English language itself carries your imprint. When we describe our home as a bungalow or our clothes as dungarees, we’re using Hindi words. When we talk about reaching nirvana, we’re borrowing a concept from Hinduism and Jainism.
And no one needs to be told that three of our most important offices of state are held by British Asians – Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Alok Sharma. Along with Sajid Javid, the UK’s first BAME chancellor, they smashed glass ceilings through grit and determination – and they stand as role models for future generations.
So we all owe a debt of gratitude to British Asians. And we should repay it by making sure those communities feel supported. Sadly, that’s something the current mayor of London just isn’t doing. Sadiq Khan raised the congestion charge to £15 a day, seven days a week, right in the middle of a pandemic. Small businesses and restaurateurs across London begged him not to, requesting meeting after meeting, but Sadiq Khan refused to listen. As a result, small business owners who get up at the crack of dawn now have to worry about their livelihoods.
And they’re not the only ones feeling the effects. As you travel to mandirs, gurdwaras and derasars, you’re also forced to pay the £15 congestion charge. I don’t think families should ever have to pay what is essentially a worship tax.
So as we approach Diwali, I make you this promise. On day one of my mayoralty, I’ll reverse Sadiq Khan’s congestion charge hike. And every day after that, I’ll work with the British Asian community to celebrate your contribution, support your businesses, and build a safer, fairer, more affordable London.
I wish you a Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas that brings happiness, prosperity and joy to you and all your family.