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UK poll: Where Indians take on Indians for Indian votes

The Conservative Party has fielded 13 Indian-origin candidates for the June 8 election, while the Labour has 14.

world Updated: May 20, 2017 21:25 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Indian origin
Sujata Barot is standing as an independent candidate in Leicester East against Keith Vaz, the longest-serving MP of Asian origin.(HT Photo)

Candidates of Indian origin are taking on each other in constituencies where large numbers of the British Indian community have settled, setting the stage for a splash of India-style colour in campaigning.

Bollywood stars have been deployed in the past — Abhishek Bachchan travelled to Leicester to campaign for Keith Vaz (Labour) in an open air car during the 2015 election, while Sanjay Dutt was at hand to help the longest-serving MP of Asian origin during the 2010 election.

Vaz, the MP from Leicester East who won with a large margin in 2015 is sitting pretty, but now faces an unusual challenge from Sujata Barot — a physically challenged community activist known for her local campaigns, who is standing as an independent.

Kenya-born Barot, 56, is a former presenter on BBC Radio Leicester, and is raising £1,000 through a crowd-funding website for her campaign (more than £400 was quickly raised). She and her family are known in the local community.

Barot told HT: “I have very good support, but our community has a habit over generations to vote for Labour and Keith Vaz. They don’t realise that both are not good for us locally and at the national level. This election is a wake-up call for them.”

Calling herself a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Barot said she was mainly campaigning through social media and posters. According to her, the constituency needs a change after many years of being represented by Vaz.

In Ealing Southall, sitting MP Virendra Sharma (Labour) faces opposition from sections of the electorate unhappy with him for major problems in the constituency, such as closure of some medical services, traffic, drugs and alcoholism.

The ethnically diverse constituency includes voters of Pakistan origin, who question Sharma during meetings for standing up for India on issues such as the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and Pakistan’s alleged support for terrorism.

“This is a British election, and we should be debating British values, not old community conflicts, ancient arguments and squabbles from half a world away and half a century ago,” he said, as his critics distribute leaflets against him on the streets of Southall.

The Conservative Party has fielded 13 Indian-origin candidates, while the Labour has 14. Experts believe the June 8 election may see a further erosion in Labour’s support from the community that has veered towards the Conservatives in the 2010 and 2015 elections.

Bollywood stars have not yet made a splash, but another aspect unique to South Asian politics is evident — voting according to the “biraderi” system of family and tribal patronage with roots to clans in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir villages, from where many voters of Pakistan origin hail.