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UK poll: Bid to increase number of Indian-origin MPs may not work

Efforts by Britain’s three main parties to increase the number of Indian-origin lawmakers may not work as most of the candidates have not been fielded in party strongholds.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2017 00:29 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
File photo of Conservative Party lawmaker Priti Patel, who is seeking re-election in Britain’s June  8 polls.
File photo of Conservative Party lawmaker Priti Patel, who is seeking re-election in Britain’s June 8 polls.(Courtesy priti4witham.com)

All three main parties in Britain have fielded Indian-origin candidates but there is some concern the number of MPs from the community may not increase substantially from the 10 in the last Parliament, mainly because most of them have not been fielded in party strongholds.

Indian-origin candidates were among the first non-whites elected in Britain’s parliamentary history: Dadabhai Naoroji from Finsbury Central in 1892, followed by Mancherjee Bhownagree (1895) and Shapurji Saklatvala (1922).

But it was only after 1987 that Parliament saw more non-whites being elected. Their number spiked from the 2010 election - from 15 to 27 in 2010 and from 27 to 41 in 2015. The next Parliament is likely to have more than 40 MPs from minority communities, including those of Indian-origin.

The number of Indian-origin candidates has been increasing over the years, though concern remains they are not chosen in retirement seats (constituencies where the party MP is retiring and the next candidate has a strong chance of winning).

On Thursday, Tamanjeet Singh Dhesi (Slough) and Kuldip Singh Sahota (Telford) are contesting to be the first turban-wearing Sikhs in the House of Commons, while Preet Kaur Gill (Birmingham Edgbaston) is hoping to be the first Sikh woman MP.

There were 10 MPs in the last Parliament of Indian origin, five each from Labour and Conservative and they are in the fray again and expected to win. The Labour candidates are Keith Vaz, Lisa Nandy, Virendra Sharma, Valerie Vaz, Seema Malhotra and the Conservative candidates are Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Shailesh Vara, Rishi Sunak and Suella Fernandes.

Sunder Katwala, director of the think tank British Future, told Hindustan Times that voters from the Indian community want to see EU free movement rules change after Brexit, but were worried about the ratcheting up of anti-immigration rhetoric. They also want to see firm action from all parties on challenging racism and hate crime, he said.

”Progress on Indian and British Asian representation in the House of Commons is set to be steady rather than spectacular, after the surge in ethnic minority MPs in 2010 and 2015. The Conservatives may overtake the Labour Party in having more ethnic minority and British Asian MPs,” he said.

Key Indian-origin candidates:

Keith Vaz: The most recognised non-white MP first elected in 1987 from Leicester East, from where he has won successive elections. Born in Aden, Vaz, 60, is of Goan origin and counts leading Indian politicians and celebrities among his friends. Bollywood stars Abhishek Bachchan and Sanjay Dutt have campaigned for him. He held the influential position of chair of the Home Affairs Committee until recently and has been in the news for controversies related to his role as an MP and his personal life.

Priti Patel: One of the leading members of the David Cameron government, Patel, 45, joined the Brexit camp before the EU referendum in June 2016. After Theresa May took over as prime minister, Patel was elevated to the cabinet role of international development secretary, the highest position reached by an Indian-origin politician. Feted by the Indian government and by the community, Patel won with a large majority in the 2015 election from Witham. She has come under fire for making tall promises to the Indian and Asian communities on the benefits of Brexit – the struggling Indian restaurant industry was promised a “rescue” by allowing recruitment of chefs from the subcontinent - but she has gone quiet on what some call “Brexit jumla”.

Virendra Sharma: A long-time resident of Southall, Sharma, 70, has been MP since 2007, having previously held office in the local council. A former bus conductor, he won with a large margin in 2015, but is expected to win with a slightly reduced majority. Sharma has faced criticism in recent months – reflected in the campaign – for problems facing the constituency. He also faced flak from the Indian community for apologising to voters of Pakistani-origin after alleging in Parliament that Pakistan is a sponsor of terrorism. Hailing from Ludhiana, Sharma is one of the most prominent faces in community events in the UK.

Paul Uppal: Of the Conservative candidates who are not MPs, Uppal has the strongest chance of winning. Uppal, 50, lost the 2015 election from Wolverhampton South West by barely 800 votes to Labour’s Rob Marris, who has retired. Uppal, a lawyer, was born to Sikh parents who migrated to the UK from east Africa. He won from the constituency in the 2010 election. Active in community affairs, Uppal is the trustee for a large gurdwara in Wolverhampton. His father is a magistrate and wife a lawyer.

Alok Sharma: Elected from Reading West since 2010, Sharma, 49, held the junior portfolio of minister for Asia in the Foreign Office, responsible for matters related to India. As the minister for Asia, Sharma travelled to India and put forth the UK’s position in parliamentary debates on sensitive issues such as Kashmir. He led a group of MPs of Indian-origin who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU before the 2016 referendum. He won the 2015 election by a margin of nearly 7,000 votes over his nearest Labour rival, and is expected to retain his seat. 

#UKPoll: List of Indian-origin candidates
Political Party: Conservative
Name, Constituency
  • Rahoul Bhansali, Brent Central
  • Suella Fernandes, Fareham
  • Samir Jassal, Feltham and Heston
  • Ameet Jogia, Brent North
  • Resham Kotecha, Coventry North East
  • Priti Patel, Witham
  • Reena, Birmingham Hall Green
  • Alok Sharma, Reading West
  • Meera Sonecha, Leicester South
  • Rishi Sunak, Richmond
  • Minesh Talati, Barking
  • Paul Uppal, Wolverhampton South West
  • Shailesh Vara, North West Cambridgeshire
  • Reena Ranger, Birmingham Hall Green
Political Party: Labour
Name, Constituency
  • Keith Vaz, Leicester East
  • Virendra Sharma, Ealing Southall
  • Neeraj Patil, Putney
  • Lisa Nandy, Wigan
  • Seema Malhotra, Feltham and Heston
  • Valerie Vaz, Walsall South
  • Rohit Dasgupta, East Hampshire
  • Hitesh Tailor, East Surrey
  • Navin Shah, Harrow East
  • Navendu Mishra, Hazel Grove
  • Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Slough
  • Kuldip Singh Sahota, Telford
  • Manjinder Kang, Tewkesbury
  • Preet Kaur Gill, Birmingham Edgbaston
Political Party: Liberal Democrats
Name, Constituency
  • Joe Naitta, Derby South
  • Rabi Martins, Luton North
  • Anita Prabhakar, Mansfield
  • Reetendranath Banerji, South Basildon and East Thurrock
  • Nigel Bakhai, Ealing Southall
  • Dave Raval, Hackney South and Shoreditch
  • Victor Babu, Clwyd West
  • Isabelle Parasram, Walsall North
  • Gitanjali Gordon, South Shields
  • Shweta Kapadia, Arundel and South Downs
  • Anita Day, Grantham and Stamford
  • Harrish Bisnauthsing, Leicester South
  • Marisha Ray, Chipping Barnet
  • Parmjit Singh, Birmingham, Perry Barr