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UK poll: From a high in 2015, Tories now cool on India

The 2015 election saw the Conservative Party’s connect with the Indian community reach new heights under David Cameron, but this time round, India and the Indian community have so far not figured high in the party’s priorities.

world Updated: May 31, 2017 18:17 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
British Prime Minister Theresa May launching her election manifesto in Halifax on Thursday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May launching her election manifesto in Halifax on Thursday.(Reuters)

A slick video with a foot-tapping Hindi song was one of the highlights of the Conservative Party’s appeal to the Indian community for the 2015 elections, but there is no such overture this time around – India finds no mention in the party’s latest manifesto.

In recent times, it is something of a ritual for top British leaders to visit Hindu temples and gurdwaras, sporting a ‘tika’, participating in ‘aarti’, and wearing a pagri, sari or salwar kameez, all of which make for photo opportunities for the British Asian news media.

The 2015 Neela Hai Aasman video (Neela, which means blue, is the Conservative Party’s colour) was a novelty, but no such sidelights are visible so far, with less than three weeks to go for the June 8 election prompted by Brexit politics. The odds favour the party to win comfortably.

The 2015 election saw the party’s connect with the community reach new heights under the leadership of David Cameron, who was assiduously wooing it since he became leader in 2005. The efforts brought dividends with large sections of the community voting for it.

Cut to 2017, and India and the Indian community have so far not figured high in the party’s priorities. Unlike significant mention about India in its 2015 manifesto, the latest one released by Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday is silent. Instead, it set out new visa curbs likely to affect Indians – students, family members, professionals – the most.

There is also disquiet that it has fielded fewer Indian-origin candidates than in 2015, and none in the seats where sitting party MPs are not contesting (called “retirement seats”), where they would have a strong chance of winning. Some see this as a dilution of Cameron’s decade-long outreach to the community.

As far as Labour Party is concerned, its manifesto does not mention India — just like the one released in 2015 — but has committed itself to an independent inquiry into Britain’s role in Operation Bluestar of 1984 if it comes to power. Once the favourite of the Indian community, young and aspirational sections have moved away in recent elections.

The Liberal Democrats Party too makes no mention about India, but reiterated its commitment to “outlaw caste discrimination”, which is an issue that has sharply divided the Indian community in recent years. The government is currently holding a consultation on the issue.

May has shown much enthusiasm on forging a free trade relationship with India after Brexit, but the only indirect reference to India in the manifesto is in the sections on “global partnerships and alliances” and “a global champion of free trade”.

The manifesto said: “We will strengthen our close links with our Commonwealth allies, continuing our mission together to promote democratic values around the world and build on our existing economic relationships to further our common trading interests.

“Open and free trade is key to international prosperity, stability and security – it is an essential component of an economy that works for everyone. We believe the UK must seize the unique opportunities it has to forge a new set of trade and investment relationships around the world, building a global, outward-looking Britain.”