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UK poll: Where Indians challenge the two most pro-India MPs

Barry Gardiner (Labour) and Bob Blackman (Conservative) face challenges from popular Indian-origin candidates with strengths of their own at the local level.

world Updated: Jun 07, 2017 22:09 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Bob Blackman, who was one of only two MPs to speak up for India in a January 19 House of Commons debate on Jammu and Kashmir.
Bob Blackman, who was one of only two MPs to speak up for India in a January 19 House of Commons debate on Jammu and Kashmir.(File Photo)

Barry Gardiner and Bob Blackman may not be the most known British MPs in India, but they are known in the Indian community here as “Barry-bhai” and “Bob-bhai” – they have been among the most pro-India MPs in Parliament, ever keen to help their constituents.

Both are popular, often attending community, religious and family events.

But this time, community leaders are shaking their heads, fearing a division of votes on Thursday because Gardiner in Brent North (Labour) and Blackman in Harrow East (Conservative) face challenges from popular Indian-origin candidates with strengths of their own at the local level.

Their fate will be keenly watched by the community, apart from that of the Indian-origin candidates fielded by the three main parties.

“They always help us, do our work. Blackman was the only MP apart from Virendra Sharma who spoke for India in a January 19 debate in the House of Commons on Jammu and Kashmir. Gardiner is our friend, and also of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” a senior community leader told HT.

Gardiner is known to be close to Modi since the latter’s days as chief minister of Gujarat, and is often seen at events of the Overseas Friends of BJP. He is currently in Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet responsible for international development.

But Blackman faces Navin Shah (Labour), whose family has been in local politics since 1994. An architect, Shah came to Britain in 1973 and went on to hold several positions in local politics and elsewhere. He is a member of the London assembly.

In Brent North, Gardiner faces Ameet Jogia, the young and enthusiastic Conservative candidate seen as a rising star in the party. His back story of being homeless and rising through the years to become local councillor is well known in the constituency.

Blackman won in the 2015 election with a small margin of 4,757, which increases Shah’s prospects. Gardiner won with a relatively larger margin of 10,834 votes, but faces some challenge from Jogia, who articulates the aspirations of the young in the constituency.

Besides holding New Delhi’s corner during the debate on Jammu and Kashmir, Blackman highlighted the plight of Kashmiri Pandits and alleged human rights violations by Pakistan. He also moved an early day motion, criticising Pakistan’s plan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its fifth province.

After filing the motion, he had told Hindustan Times: “One notices that the pro-Pakistan lobby in the UK is extremely effective and they make sure their MPs turn up in their support via all possible parliamentary contributions.

The debate on Jammu and Kashmir was a classic example. It was just me and one other MP speaking in support of India. Hardly anyone speaking on the day spoke of the human rights violations by Pakistan and ignored the series of violations by them over the years,” he had said.