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New Indian faces likely in Britain’s House of Commons

Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham Edgbaston) and Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) will seek to be one of the first Sikhs to be elected to the House of Commons.

world Updated: May 04, 2017 10:52 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Labour MP Virendra Sharma launches his election campaign from Southall.
Labour MP Virendra Sharma launches his election campaign from Southall. (Prasun Sonwalkar)

As political parties select candidates for the June 8 mid-term election, indications are that the next cohort of Indian-origin MPs will include some new faces and a higher number of MPs than the record 10 in the outgoing House of Commons.

The 10 Indian-origin MPs included five each from Labour and Conservative parties. In 2015, the Conservative party had fielded 17 candidates, while Labour had put up 14. In all, there were a record 59 candidates from the community with influence in several constituencies.

The 10 Indian-origin MPs were: Keith Vaz, Valerie Vaz, Seema Malhotra, Virendra Sharma, Lisa Nandy (Labour) and Priti Patel, Shailesh Vara, Alok Sharma, Rishi Sunak and Suella Fernandes (Conservative). Patel and Sharma were ministers in the Theresa May government.

As senior Labour MP Virendra Sharma launched his campaign in Ealing Southall on Wednesday, new faces such as Labour’s Rohit Dasgupta (East Hampshire) and Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham Edgbaston) were confirmed as candidates.

Gill and Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) will seek to be one of the first Sikhs to be elected to the House of Commons. The 10 sitting MPs will contest again, while several individuals joined parties amid trends that the Indian community was moving away from Labour to the Conservatives in recent elections.

The new entrants (not candidates) include Ankit Love (son of Panthers Party leader Bhim Singh) who joined the Liberal Democrats, and former BBC journalist Pankaj Dubey, who joined Labour.

Labour MP Virendra Sharma launches his election campaign from Southall. (Prasun Sonwalkar)

Love, who contested the London mayoral election in 2016, told Hindustan Times that he has joined the Liberal Democrats to help the party stop what he calls “disastrous Brexit”.

Welcoming Love to the party, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Ankit is one of many young people who are seeing their opportunities robbed from them by this government’s drive for a hard Brexit.

“The only party who is able to represent the 75% majority of young people who voted to remain in the EU is the Liberal Democrats.”

No major India-related issues have emerged since the 2015 election, but candidates are expected to be questioned again on the sensitive issue of legislation to outlaw caste-based discrimination and their mixed engagement with Indian issues in Parliament.

There is some concern that for all the advantage that their Indian origins and links bring, few have stood up for New Delhi in parliament, particularly on issues such as Jammu and Kashmir. During the January 19 debate on Jammu and Kashmir, only Virendra Sharma and Bob Blackman (Conservative) spoke in India’s favour.

There is a long history of Indian-origin MPs in British parliament. The first Indian or Asian-origin member of parliament was Dadabhai Naoroji, who was elected from Finsbury Central in 1892, followed by Mancherjee Bhownagree (1895) and Shapurji Shaklatvala (1922).

After a long gap, Keith Vaz was elected in 1987. Since then, several such MPs have entered the House of Commons. In 2015, there were two brother-sister duos among the 59 candidates in the fray: Keith Vaz and Valerie Vaz (both Labour), and Arun Photay and Suria Photay (both Conservative).