As parties seek to enthuse an increasingly cynical electorate with new promises on key issues such as immigration, economy and health, their manifestos indicate new equations in relation to India, challenging earlier notions and assumptions.
All major parties have released their manifestos ahead of the May 7 elections that are widely expected to lead to a hung parliament and another coalition government. Bets are more on potential coalition partners than on which party will win a majority.
In fact, parties such as Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party are vying to emerge as king-makers and have been setting out demands to join a coalition. Liberal Democrats, in coalition with Conservatives since 2010, released their manifesto on Wednesday.
Deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said his party would “add a heart to a Conservative government and add a brain to a Labour one”.
But it is the mention — or not — of India in the manifestos that has raised some eyebrows.
The Labour party, which has traditionally been the favourite of Indian-origin voters, made no mention of India in its manifesto.
Instead, the Conservative party – viewed by many Asians as the ‘nasty party’ – made significant mention of India. Leading the Conservative-led coalition since 2010, Prime Minister David Cameron has consistently focussed on India, making three visits.
The Conservative manifesto said, “As part of our drive to attract more investment into the UK and increase British exports, we will build on our strong relationship with India, push for an ambitious EU-India trade deal and support India’s bid for permanent representation on the UN Security Council”.
The manifesto also promised to help the Manchester Museum, in partnership with the British Museum, to establish a new India Gallery, and support the Indian government in its efforts to protect the Asian elephant.
Significantly, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which emerged as a significant force in UK politics with its anti-EU and anti-immigration posture, had more mention about India than Labour in its manifesto.
Harping on its demand that UK should come out of the European Union, the UKIP manifesto said, “From India to the United States, New Zealand to the Caribbean, UKIP would want to foster closer ties with the Anglosphere.”