British politicians visiting temples, holding ‘puja thalis’ and sporting ‘tilak’ are a common sight during elections but the Conservative candidate for London’s mayoral polls has taken wooing the Indian community to a new level, drawing some flak.
Zac Goldsmith, 41, a former journalist of a wealthy aristocratic background, is pitted against Labour’s Sadiq Khan, 45, the Pakistani-origin son of a bus driver, for the May 5 election. The winner will succeed Boris Johnson, who was mayor for two terms.
As campaigning heats up, Goldsmith posted customised leaflets to thousands of voters of Indian origin, addressing them directly by name, and harping on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visit to London last November.
Goldsmith is the son of late billionaire Sir James Goldsmith and his sister Jemima was once married to Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
Burnishing his links with India and Indians, Goldsmith made coded attacks on Khan, with the leaflet claiming he supported Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who in 2013 wanted to ban Modi from visiting Britain. Khan was also accused of not attending Modi’s address at Wembley stadium.
The leaflets with three photographs of Goldsmith shaking hands with Modi have angered many, mainly for their stereotypical and patronising view of Indians. By mentioning only Hindu festivals, the leaflets exclude many Indian Muslims.
“Are we supposed to be impressed by photos with Modi, or vote for Goldsmith because he spent some time in Rajasthan, Dehradun and Delhi years ago? The leaflets are offensive and patronising, to say the least,” Ravi Singh, an IT professional, told Hindustan Times.
But what amused many Indian professionals was Goldsmith’s claim that as mayor he would protect Indian families “owning gold and valuable family heirlooms”. The claim was in the context of several Asian families being targeted for gold and jewellery in recent years.
The leaflet goes on to say Khan’s party supported a wealth tax on family jewellery, a claim based on a liberal interpretation of Labour supporting a wealth tax. There is currently no British tax on jewellery, nor is one proposed.
The website Daily Sikh Updates reminded Goldsmith that “Sikhs are not Hindus”. It said: “Zac Goldsmith’s mailshot was personally addressed to each householder and also reached the homes of the 120,000 Sikhs living in London.
“To assume the London Sikhs are so easily satisfied to be targeted with the same narratives intended for middle-class Hindu voters still shows a poor understanding of the London ethnic landscape, particularly as Sikhs have contributed to London for over 100 years.”
Khan has not responded to the customised leaflets, but Labour MP Tulip Siddiq said: “Zac Goldsmith just doesn’t understand the great diversity of our city – he is not fit to be mayor. His campaign is patronising London’s communities by trying to scare them with the threat of a non-existent jewellery tax, rather than focusing on the big issues like housing, transport and policing.”
London’s Indian-origin community is estimated to be nearly 550,000-strong, spread across Greater London, but mainly located in and around Brent, Harrow, Hounslow, Ealing and Southall.
According to rules, Indian citizens legally in London are entitled to vote in the mayoral election. Many Indian citizens resident here long term have acquired British citizenship.