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Indian brand of politics creeping into Britain

Indian brand of politics creeping into Britain

Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: October 13 2003

The phenomenon of vote banks based on Asian religions is fast becoming a reality in British politics. Strategic voting - more common in politics in the Indian subcontinent - has begun defining new alignments.

Traditionally, Asians have been Labour supporters, but recent events such as the war on Iraq showed that the party could not take the community's support for granted.

In September, a political party espousing the cause of British Sikhs was formed at Wolverhampton. Called the Sikh Federation, its promoters say the party could cause 'huge damage' in constituencies where Labour is strong and where Sikhs constitute a sizeable minority. They want the Sikhs' wishes to be taken more seriously.

The recent Brent East by-election showed how bulk voting by Muslim voters opposed to the Iraq war ensured that Labour lost the seat to Liberal Democrats. The result has sent alarm bells ringing in several Labour constituencies that have a substantial Muslim vote.

The Muslim voice in British politics is espoused by a forum called the Muslim Parliament though British Muslim politics continues to be divided by what is called 'biraderi', or clan, rivalries.

Now come efforts to consolidate the "Hindu vote" in British politics. An initiative called Operation Hindu Vote was launched recently to get more Hindus to vote in British elections. It has been designed to unify and strengthen the political lobbying power of the Hindus.

Coordinated by the Hindu Forum UK, the initiative has already been supported by the three main political parties - Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

As in the case of the Sikh Federation, Operation Hindu Vote seeks to act as a pressure group and not set up candidates of its own. It does not identify with any political party and urges members to join political parties of their choice.

The Sikh Federation is setting up branches in each major town and city with a sizeable Sikh population and intends to back any party that best represents its members. Dabinderjit Singh, its spokesman, said Sikhs were angry that despite promises from the government, they felt consistently let down over issues of identity.

He complained that there had been a failure to address security issues since the September 11 attacks, after which a number of Sikhs were attacked as hostility towards ethnic minorities in some areas increased.

Ramesh Kallidai, general secretary of the Hindu Centre for Communications, is closely involved with Operation Hindu Vote.

He told the local media, 'We wanted two things: first, to make the Hindu population of this country more politically active and that means that, at least, they go and vote in elections. Secondly, they should join political parties of their choice.' According to Kallidai, only 17 per cent of British Hindus actually vote.

The context of political consolidation within the British Asian community is the success of Operation Black Vote that has led to an increased political profile of the Afro-Caribbean community.

Simon Wolley of Operation Black Vote welcomes the recent initiatives but is wary that too many divisions within the ethnic minorities might affect the overall objective of greater involvement and the influence of non-whites in British politics.

He said there could be issues on which various ethnic minorities do not agree, but there would at least be half a dozen on which they agree, such as having more ethnic minorities candidates and having a less Eurocentric education system.

'If we do not do this, it will be a case of that old adage that has plagued black communities throughout history - that divided we fall and united we succeed,' Wolley said. (Indo-Asian News Service)

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