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At 56, Indian-origin candidates in UK polls hit new high


Indian Origin Candidates in UK

If a record number of 10 Indian-origin candidates were elected to the British Parliament in 2015, the 2017 snap polls have an impressive number of 56 Indian-origin candidates contesting.

LONDON: An 18-year-old Alevel candidate, a scholar from Jadavpur University who landed in Britain in 2009 are among the many 'desi' faces on the ballot paper as UK votes on Thursday amidst one of the fiercest debates on immigration and minority community in decades.

If a record number of 10 Indian-origin candidates were elected to the British Parliament in 2015, the 2017 snap polls have an impressive number of 56 Indian-origin candidates contesting.

Defending comfortable margins are the Indian-origin veterans, including Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Keith Vaz, Virendra Sharma and Shailesh Vara, all well-known MPs with sizeable majorities. Though Vaz was embroiled in a prostitution and drugs scandal last year, he is expected to retain his seat with a large majority.

UK GENERAL ELECTION | JUNE 8

the big guns in UK

Candidates to watch on the night are Paul Uppal, 49, Conservative nominee in Wolverhampton South West. He needs to overturn the 2015 majority of just 801 votes to return to the House of Commons as MP. It will be Labour candidate Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi's first time as MP if he manages to keep the Slough seat, held by Labour's Fiona Mactaggart since 1997. Another Sikh with chances of winning is Kuldip Singh Sahota, 66, a Labour local councillor contesting in Telford. A win in Birmingham Edgbaston will make Labour's Preet Kaur Gill the first Sikh woman MP in the House.

Among interesting debuts is Rohit Dasgupta's, who moved to the UK in 2009 from his native Kolkata. The Labour nominee is running in East Hampshire, a Tory safe seat. The five Indian-origin candidates standing for UKIP are not expected to win any seats as most party supporters are expected to vote Conservative. The Green Party is also not expected to take any seats. The youngest Indian-origin candidate, Arran Rangi, 18, standing for the Green Party in Ashfield, is appearing for his A level exam at 9am on Friday. "I'll make a brief appearance at the count," he said. "I don't expect to win."

Rakib Ehsan at Royal Holloway University who specialises in ethnic minority political attitudes, says that for British Indians, it's a two-party race between Labour and Tories. "It'll take many more elections for the Lib Dems and Greens to be players in the Asian community." Ehsan notes that there "seems to be a huge transfer of votes from Labour," and that the Conservatives are likely to win a large chunk of the Indian communities' votes.

Within the British Asian population, Indians are more economically successful than Pakistanis and Bangladeshis and are more likely to be professionals. Thus, the Conservatives appeal to them more, says Ehsan. British Indians tended to vote Labour in the 1960s and 70s because of Labour's reputation for anti-discrimination and bringing out the Race Relations Act, but as Indians became economically better off, they have tended to vote Conservative, as in 2015.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's criticism of Narendra Modi over the 2002 Gujarat riots and on Kashmir has also apparently created the impression that Corbyn was "promoting the victimization of Muslims in India," says Ehsan, noting that there's a "feeling that Labour is not taking Islamist extremism threat seriously as they're reliant on Muslim votes in inner cities."

British Indians are able to swing the vote in many marginal seats, he says, a view echoed by Jasvir Singh, founding chair of City Sikhs. "The ethnic minority vote is greater than the majority's in 50 of the most marginal seats and could make all the difference," Singh said.

(This article was originally published in The Times of India)

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