BRITAIN’S political parties have fielded a large number of Indian-origin candidates in the general election on Thursday (May 7) to woo voters from the Indian diaspora in the UK.
The last elections in 2010 had set a new record with eight Indian-origin candidates, including two women – Conservatives’ Priti Patel and Labour’s Valerie Vaz - being elected to parliament.
Seema Malhotra for Labour added to that women in politics presence when she went on to win a by-election in 2011.
In the 2015 election, each of the major parties have pledged a larger presence of ethnic minority MPs within their fold in an attempt to attract a larger chunk of the ethnic minority vote.
There are a total of 59 Indian-origin candidates in the fray – the Conservative (17), Labour (14), Liberal Democrats (14), Green Party (4), United Kingdom Independence Party- UKIP (3), Independents (2) and one each from the smaller parties like All People’s Party, Christian Movement for Great Britain, National Liberal Party, Socialist Labour Party and Young People’s Party.
Prime minister David Cameron has repeatedly gone on record during the campaign claiming that he is confident that the country’s “first Asian or black prime minister” will come from his Conservative party.
The Tory poster boy for equal opportunities has emerged as Rishi Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy, who has been fielded in a traditionally safe Tory seat, vacated by UK former foreign secretary William Hague.
“We fielded Rishi Sunak at Richmond, the former seat of William Hague and one of the safest seats for the Conservatives in North Yorkshire,” Cameron stressed, indicating his party’s attempt at improving its record with ethnic minorities.
The party had attracted a mere 16 per cent of ethnic minority votes at the last election, with Labour attracting 61 per cent and 14 per cent choosing the Lib Dems.
Indian-origin voters have traditionally connected more with Labour due to its working-class and immigrant-friendly outlook. However, that can no longer be taken for granted as British-born second generation Indians tend to identify more with the Conservatives.
“The ethnic minorities are seen to be the core of Labour party vote, they have been for years, for decades but the percentage of people who identify with the Labour party is falling very fast,” warns Dr Maria Sobolewska, an expert from Manchester University who conducted the recent British Election Study.
Prominent Labour candidates like long-serving MPs Keith Vaz (Leicester East) and Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall) are seen as sure winners as they have a special connect with a largely Indian-origin electorate in their constituencies.
Among the Tories, some of the likely winners include Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) and Sailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire).
The party has also fielded the first-ever Sikh candidate in Northern Ireland, Amandeep Singh Bhogal, but his candidacy is expected to remain more symbolic in a constituency which has traditionally voted along Protestant versus Catholic religious lines.
The number of first-timers able to break through will determine if the 2015 polls set a new record in the final tally of Indian-origin MPs in the House of Commons.
Meanwhile, the 615,000-strong Indian migrant population and 1.5 million strong Indian diaspora based in the UK are all set to play their part among the over 45 million eligible voters choosing as many as 650 MPs.