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Diwali 2013: David Cameron's speech

Well, a very happy Diwali to everyone, and a warm welcome to Number 10 Downing Street. And can I first of all thank the choir for that beautiful song, that beautiful singing: a reminder of the fact that we’re so fortunate in this country to have, with our academies and our free schools, some Hindu schools, backed by religious organisations that make an incredible contribution to our country. You’re hugely welcome here tonight.

Now, you get to make some extraordinary visits as Prime Minister, you get to meet some extraordinary people and you get to do some extraordinary things. But very few will actually compete with my experience on Monday, going to the Mandir in Neasden. It was a beautiful service; it was lovely to see so many people packed into a temple and queues stretching round the block; people wanting to celebrate their belief, wanting to celebrate their faith, and wanting to do so with their families, with their neighbours, with their friends.

It was a really wonderful thing to do and I want to thank those that asked me to take part. But what I said then, and what I’ll say again tonight, is that it is important as a country that we celebrate all the key religious festivals. And this idea that somehow you reduce the relevance of one by celebrating another is nonsense. I’m proud that here in Downing Street we have celebrations for Eid, we have celebrations for Hanukkah, we have celebrations for Easter, and tonight we celebrate Diwali.

And what I find when we celebrate these things is not how many differences we have but how many things we share in common about our faiths and what they mean to us and what they teach us to do in terms of our families, in terms of our communities.

And just as we Christians like to make a wish on New Year’s Day, I think it’s right to make a wish at the time of Diwali as well. And if you allow me, I’ll have the same 2 wishes I had in Neasden on Monday.

I do wish profoundly that we continue to do everything we can to build the relationship between Britain and India. It is a strong relationship, it’s a vibrant relationship. It has so many parts to it. There’s all the shared history, there’s the shared language. There’s the great excitement about our economies. India invests more into the United Kingdom than the rest of Europe put together. Britain is one of the top 3 investors into India. Some of the projects, some of the businesses underway are thrilling. The cooperation between our universities, our shared love of sport. There’s so much that we share together.

And I think the exciting thing about the relationship is not the past or the present, but it’s the future. It’s the idea that we are going to work together on some of these shared global challenges. And I very much look forward to making my third visit to India as Prime Minister, and seeing Manmohan Singh when I go. It’s a huge pleasure to go back to India, and I’m really looking forward to it.

So let’s all build this relationship together. I look round the room and I see businessmen and women who invest in Britain and invest in India. I see people in our armed forces, where we can forge great relationships between Britain and India. And we should all play our part. Parliamentarians can do exactly that as well.

The second wish is this wish that we continue to celebrate and enhance what British Indians, British Hindus bring to our country. Just look across the enormous contribution that British Hindus make to our country. We see it in sport. We see it in the arts, in culture. We see it certainly in business in a huge way. We see it in our NHS, in our schools. There are so many aspects of it.

And what is good is that increasingly young British Indians can look at any part of our national endeavour and can see people like them getting to the very top. We want to see British Hindus, British Indians in the top of our judiciary, we want to see them at the top of our armed forces and we also want to see them at the top of our politics.

And I think we have made some big steps forward in recent years, and it’s great to see here tonight people like Shailesh Vara and Alok Sharma and Priti Patel and Keith Vaz. There’s a lot more British Indians now involved in our politics, and as I said on Monday, I want to see more in the Commons, I want to see more in the Lords and I want to see more in our government.

And I think that’s absolutely vital to celebrate the contribution people make because it really matters for the importance of role models. I want young people, including the young school children who sang so well for us, to be able to see every aspect of British life and think, ‘Yes, I can get to the top. I can make a contribution. If I have the talent I can go all the way.’ That is what matters.

So, thank you for coming tonight. Thank you for celebrating Diwali, once again, here in Number 10 Downing Street. The point I will want to leave you with is, as I say, the shared things that all our religions bring. When I look at the Ramayana and my understanding of the Hindu religion, there’s so much that you have to say about the importance of family, about the importance of community, about the importance of voluntary service – these are all the values that our country needs more of.

So, as you celebrate your values, let’s make them our values, and let’s have more of them in Britain. Thank you very much indeed.

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