(Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images).

BRITISH finance minister Rishi Sunak has said that celebrating Diwali this year will be difficult and encouraged families to meet up virtually this weekend.

Sunak lit candles outside 11 Downing Street on Thursday(13) to mark the festival.

 “Faith is important to me, I’m a practising Hindu, I pray with my kids, visit the temple when I can – at the moment rather less so because I’m busy. For us as Hindus, Diwali is special, and it’s going to be difficult this year,” he told BBC.

“But we’ve got Zoom, we’ve got the phone, and most importantly, we’ve got each other. Whether you can see someone or not the bond of family, that bond of love is always going to be there. And it will be there on 3 December as well.”

The 40-year-old Sunak is married to Akshata Murthy – the daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy.

Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated across the world by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, who traditionally illuminate their homes with candles and lanterns.

This year it began on Thursday(13), with the main day of celebrations taking place on Saturday(14).

Many councils are providing online Diwali celebrations on Saturday because of the lockdown.

Sunak said that people will have lots of happy times once the restrictions are lifted.

He also defended the government’s ambition of lifting lockdown before Christmas, despite accusations that other faith celebrations such as Diwali had been overlooked.

“Of course this is a secular country. But Christmas is also a national time when regardless of whether you’re going to midnight Mass or to church, it’s a time when most people have time off work, we have holidays, state holidays, it is a time when everyone hangs out,” he said.

“We’ve had restrictions all the way through this year at different times, in different parts of the country. And it’s affected all sorts of people in different ways.”

The Leicester city council people to send in video messages as part of their online celebrations. The Diwali celebrations there is believed to be among the biggest outside of India.

London’s main Diwali celebration, which usually attracts around 30,000 people to Trafalgar Square, has also been replaced with an online event.

Similar outdoor celebrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff have been cancelled this year due to restrictions in Scotland and Wales, though digital events will be held.