India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar with wife Kyoko met with the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty at 10 Downing Street on Diwali day, Sunday 12 November, to convey Diwali wishes from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was also gifted a bat signed by Indian cricketer Virat Kohli as a Diwali present.
The Sunak family including daughters Krishna and Anoushka were seen gathering outside the No 10 door, putting diyas, as a custom to ward off evil. The family afterwards also visited Vedic Society Hindu Temple, in Southampton, where the PM and wife were seen singing Bhajan with other visitors.
On Wednesday 8 November, the same Downing Street looked like a dream as guests queued through the iconic No 10 door to attend Rishi Sunak’s second Diwali reception for the community as the Prime Minister. His first one was 2 days after he became the first ever Indian origin Prime Minister of the UK last year.
The building right from the ground floor to the hall on the first floor, was decorated with plenty of diyas and candles, orange and yellow marigolds from floor to walls to stairs to bannisters, colourful stick-on rangolis on the carpeted floors and gorgeous red flowers across the rooms in vases. Even outside the iconic No 10 door there were diyas and rangoli - the very first time in the building’s history.
Inside, at the end of the hallway before the reception entrance stood the First Lady Akshata Murty herself, looking beautiful in a dark pink and golden printed salwar kameez, with matching shoes, bindi and green and golden bangles. She personally welcomed in everyone to her home, wishing them a Happy Diwali, as guests slowly trickled in, marvelling at the gorgeous decorations, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with her.
At the reception hall, a huge Annakut was on the display. The centre of it was a beautiful marble statue of Lord Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman that belonged to the home of Lord and Lady Dolar Popat in London’s suburbs.
The Annakut on display that included delectable sweets and savouries were contributed by several Hindu temples representing various sects- an idea that Mr Sunak himself was apparently invested in.
The podium had a huge statue of Lord Ganesha on one side, in a garland with diyas, waiting to be lit by the PM. Staff with juices and lassis made rounds, along with Indian canapés by Sanjay Foods. Indian Sweets on rounds included a mix of laddoos, kaju katli among other varieties as well as sweet hot jalebis with a sprinkle of nuts on top.
Who were in attendance?
In attendance were 150 people including Lord Karan Bilimoria, Lord Kulveer Ranger, Lord and Lady Raj Loomba, Baroness Sandip Verma with husband Ashok Verma, Lord and Lady Dolar Popat, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt, Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, Conservative Friends of India co-chairs Cllr Ameet Jogia MBE with wife Priya Jatania and Cllr Reena Ranger OBE, Indian High Commissioner Vikram Doraiswami, Dr M N Nandakumara MBE from Bhavan, Bollywood actor Preity Zinta, Akshay Kumar with wife Twinkle Khanna, Vishakha Dasi from Bhaktivedanta Manor, Sanjay Kara from BAPS Swaminarayan Temple Neasden, CB Patel, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar, celebrity and local singers/musicians Navin Kundra, Kishan Amin, Rekesh Chauhan BEM, NISAU Chair Sanam Arora, Trupti Patel of Hindu Forum of Britain, and Hanuman Dass with wife Sheena Randerwala, Founders of Go Dharmic, who received the Points of Light Award along with Dr Mukesh Chugh.
Children from Avanti Court Primary School performed Sanskrit chants/shlokas as Mr Sunak and Ms Murty lit the lamps to mark the official beginning of the Diwali celebrations at No 10.
PM Sunak and Ms Murty address guests
Ms Murty, welcoming and addressing the audience from the podium said, “It's such a special occasion for all of us here. And this reception is extra special for me because last year when Rishi became prime minister this was the first reception we hosted. So, it's nice to see so many familiar faces and also some new faces so welcome.”
Mr Sunak said, “Happy Diwali. It's a great pleasure and a privilege to welcome you all here. But let's start by thanking the children from Avanti Court Primary School for leading us in our direction tonight. But also thank you to all the Mandirs who have so generously contributed to the Annakut display next door, and particularly one of the largest temples in the UK, who as you all know are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. I'm delighted that their President Vishakha Dasi is here with us today. Thank you to all the volunteers, of course, an incredibly special time for all of us at home with our families. But for me now, it also brings back amazing memories of becoming Prime Minister this time last year is up to the set.”
He further added, “Many of you have been asking me and people do what's this last year been like. And I say look, it's been a year of incredibly hard work, some real progress, and of course memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life. First of all, living out my childhood dream, which was playing cricket with the England team in the garden. But probably the less said about the England cricket team is better now. We will switch to the Indian side of the family.”
Talking about his meeting with two of the iconic world leaders, as the room filled with laughter, Mr Sunak said, “Another incredible memory was sharing my mom's homemade Barfi with President Vladimir Zelensky when he visited at Chequers. My mom was so excited when I told her about that, that she then said she should probably ship more Barfi to him. So, when we hear that he's been taken down with diabetes, we’ll know!”
Speaking about his visit to G20 in India, as Britain’s first ever Indian-origin PM he added, “Then it was an incredible moment actually to go to India for the G20 as the first British Indian Prime Minister, be there for India's big moment on the world stage with Modi ji and that was a very special moment. I think for all of us, who saw what had happened to India's development over the two years it was a proud moment for everyone. And it was an incredible success.”
Speaking about his challenging job for the last one year, he further said, “But in all honesty, as I look back over the last year in this job has brought many challenges but what has sustained me throughout and continues to sustain me is remembering the values that my parents brought me and my brother and sister off with hard work, a commitment to service, is understanding the value of education in all things and making the right decisions, not just the easy ones. And I know as I look around that many of you are brought up with those same values too. And I want to say a huge and heartfelt thank you to each and every single one of you for the incredible things that you all do in your lives.
“Now over the last year, I've spoken to quite a bit about my family's story about my Naniji boarding our first ever plane to come here from East Africa over 60 years ago, and the journey that I know will be familiar to many of you in this room. It was a story about hope, faith, ambition, and putting the next generation first. And looking around this room. We should be filled similarly, with hope and ambition. Because here we are, with many of you standing together, all of whom are making incredible contributions to your communities up and down the country. It is an inspiring thing to stand here with all of you. And what better way to celebrate this Diwali with the brilliant people in this room who are lighting the way for our future. So, thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing this very special moment.”
PM’s interaction with the community
After his speech Mr Sunak met every single guest, spoke to them and shook hands. He also touched the feet of Dr Nandakumara, while exchanging pleasantries with him. Women, many elderly present were eager to meet him, which Mr Sunak obliged them with even photos. He also held a special audience with the Bollywood stars.
Few guests had personal messages for the PM, one even requesting on behalf of his child for an Easter egg hunt in the No 10 garden to another coming forward to gift the PM with a personalised Diwali card with the PM’s family portrait on its cover.