It was called an “insurgent” party after making major gains in electoral politics in recent years with its anti-EU appeal, but the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) may well become the first frontline British party to have an Indian-origin leader.
Raheem Kassam, a 30-year-old son of Indian immigrants from Tanzania, is among the three contenders for the leadership election currently underway.
Nigel Farage resigned as party leader after the June 23 EU referendum, which was partly held as a result of UKIP’s rise in British politics as it exploited growing anti-EU sentiment in the country. Diane James won the leadership election in September, but stepped down 18 days later.
Farage has returned as the interim party leader, and Kassam is in the fray for the top spot, along with Paul Nuttal and Suzanne Evans.
Kassam has often said he is not a practising Muslim, and tried to counter radical Islam. The former aide of Farage has already secured the support of the party’s biggest donor, insurance tycoon Arron Banks.
Banks said on Twitter: “I’ve been very impressed with Raheem’s ideas, despite Paul Nuttall running I think he’s the candidate to beat. He’s got my support.”
Welcoming the endorsement, Kassam said: “This is a major endorsement from someone who has been one of the driving forces behind UKIP in recent years. Banks ploughed his personal time and money into the referendum campaign and the party, and for those wondering whether he still stood with UKIP, this is a very clear sign: he does, under a Kassam leadership.”
On Sunday, rival Evans alleged that Kassam would take the party too far to the right, an accusation dismissed by the latter, who said: “It is sad that 60 seconds after she launched her campaign on the BBC, Suzanne Evans attacked me and my thousands of supporters as 'far right'. This is a project fear tactic and UKIPers are sick of these smears.”
Holding Margaret Thatcher as one his idols, Kassam, who studied politics at the University of Westminster, is reported to prefer Donald Trump as US president. He is keen to stop infighting in UKIP and address divisions in British society.
Nominations for the leadership election close on October 31, and the new leader will be announced on November 28.