UK PM Boris Johnson in London temple to consolidate British Indian vote
Wooed by David Cameron since 2005 when he became party leader and later as prime minister after 2010, the 1.5 million-strong community has increasingly gravitated towards the Conservative party.Updated: Dec 08, 2019 20:14 IST
A large front-page photo on Sunday of Prime Minister Boris Johnson with his partner Carrie Symonds in a sari in a London temple symbolized the comfort level of the Conservative party with the Indian community and its growing support before the December 12 election.
Wooed by David Cameron since 2005 when he became party leader and later as prime minister after 2010, the 1.5 million-strong community has increasingly gravitated towards the Conservative party.
The community has asserted in recent years on issues such as caste legislation and Kashmir, insisting that mainstream British parties cannot take it for granted. The Conservative party and its recent governments have usually gone along with influential sections of the community.
The front-page photo from the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in The Sunday Telegraph was published in the backdrop of the recent divide in the community over Labour’s stand on Kashmir, seen by many as being ‘anti-India’ and ‘anti-Hindu’.
British leaders make the rounds of temples and gurdwaras during elections to seek Indian votes, but this time Labour leaders have been absent in temples due to lack of invitation from Hindu groups upset over its position on Kashmir.
Besides Symonds, Johnson was joined in the temple on Saturday by home secretary Priti Patel, also clad in a sari, and leading Conservative figures such as MPs Bob Blackman and Shailesh Vara, and Dolar Popat, member of the House of Lords.
Johnson reiterated his support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and without naming Labour and its Kashmir position, regretted efforts to bring into UK politics viewpoints about conflicts elsewhere that are seen as ‘anti-India’.
Both Labour and Conservative governments in the past two decades have followed the line that the Kashmir dispute is a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve, and that the UK has no role in it. But as a party, Labour favours UN intervention and focus on human rights.
Johnson also reiterated his party’s promise to treat EU and non-EU citizens at par for visa purposes after Brexit. New rules to be introduced will reduce visa processing time for nurses and doctors needed in UK hospitals.
In the Leicester East constituency with large numbers of Indian-origin voters, Hindu religious overtones are evident as the Conservative candidate Bhupen Dave seeks to wrest the seat from Labour after 32 years, held by Keith Vaz, who has stepped down.
The Labour candidate is Claudia Webbe, who has family links in the constituency, but her nomination was opposed by Indian-origin candidates in the party. Leaflets with words and images associated with Hinduism have been distributed in favour of Dave.
One such leaflet with Dave’s image says: “The political manthan of GE2019: Will the Dharmic Community end up with Amrut or Poison?” It claims that Webbe’s party supporters participated in Kashmir protests “where anti-India and anti-Hindu slogans” were raised.
The Conservative party was long seen by the community as ‘nasty’, but the Cameron-initiated turn to India and Indians in the UK has increased support, particularly from young, aspirational members born and raised in the UK.
But Labour, which has been the community’s traditional party of preference, continues to enjoy much support. Its MPs won with larger margins in 2017; it had seven Indian-origin MPs. Its cohort is now likely to be joined by its new candidate in Stockport, Navendu Mishra.
The Conservative party had five Indian-origin MPs; its group is likely to be joined by Indian-origin Claire Coutinho in the party’s stronghold of Surrey East.