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India has reason to smile

world Updated: May 07, 2010 23:27 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The wheels of fortune turned for Indian-origin candidates in the British elections as a suave 42-year-old Sikh businessman won a parliamentary seat once represented by an MP who promised “rivers of blood” over immigration.

Conservative candidate Paul Uppa ousted his fancied rival,

the
sitting Labour MP Rob Marris, by a razor-thin margin of 691 votes to take the Wolverhampton Southwest seat.

He was among a record eight Indian-origin candidates — half of them fresh faces — to make to the British parliament.

The city of Wolverhampton, located in west-central England and home to one of the largest Sikhs communities in Britain, became notorious when the local Conservative MP, Enoch Powell, made an infamous speech on immigration on April 20, 1968. “As I look ahead,” said Powell, “I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”

Powell was sacked as a member of the shadow cabinet after the speech prompted outrage around the world, but as recently as in 2007 a Conservative candidate in the region was forced to stand down after claiming Powell was “right” when he gave his anti-immigration speech.

Also making their entry into the House of Commons were the first Indian-origin women — Valerie Vaz, Labour (sister of Britain’s longest serving MP of Indian origin Keith Vaz), Priti Patel, Conservative.

“This is long overdue,” Patel, 37, said. Introduced to politics by former Conservative heavyweight Cecil Parkinson, Patel has few family links left in India although her parents were originally from Gujarat.

The fourth debutant is Alok Sharma of the Conservative party, who won Reading West, a Labour seat for over a decade.

Other winning candidates of Indian origin were the sitting MPs Keith Vaz (Labour, Leicester East), Shailesh Vara (Conservatives, Cambridgeshire northwesh), Marsha Singh (Labour, Bradford west), and Virendra Sharma (Labour, Ealing Southall).

Seven Pakistani origin candidates were also elected.

Rushnara Ali, 35, became the first Bangladeshi woman to be make to the House of Commons.