I want to send my best wishes to everyone celebrating Vaisakhi this year.
This is a hugely important time for Sikhs across Britain and around the world for them to come together with friends and family to celebrate the birth of the faith.
160 years ago, the first Sikh arrived in Britain. Since then, Sikhs have more than made their mark here – in business, in public services, in sport, culture, charity and beyond.
Vaisakhi gives us a chance to celebrate that immense contribution and to share the success stories of British Sikhs: Of people like Tom Singh, who expanded a single clothes shop into a chain of 1,000 New Look stores around the world. Like Paul Uppal, the self-made businessman, who is the only Sikh MP serving in the House of Commons. Like Ravi Singh, from the charity Khalsa Aid, who rallied the community during the recent flooding to help with the clean-up. And like the remarkable marathon runner Fauja Singh – ‘the turbaned tornado’ – who, at over 100, is still running and still inspiring millions.
2014 also marks 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War. During that conflict, well over a million men from India fought for Britain. Many thousands of them were Sikhs – and many made the ultimate sacrifice. From the trenches of the Somme, to the deserts of the Middle East they demonstrated the bravery and the courage that is so synonymous with Sikhism so I hope we can all pause this Vaisakhi to remember those who fought and fell for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Vaisakhi is also a special time for Hindus, who are celebrating the beginning of their New Year. We salute their ancestors’ remarkable role in the First World War, and their role in British life too.
So as we think about the contribution of these faith communities, past and present let me, once again, wish everyone a very happy Vaisakhi.