It’s Hindus Versus Muslims In Uk Polls

By RASHMEE ROSHAN LAL LONDON: Here’s a hard, ugly fact: Just three four days to Election Day and Britain’s Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims are flexing lingual muscle, the only political organ in an Asian body made up of an estimated three-million people. But, here’s the beautiful fiction: the Asian vote can make or break disparate British politicians in at least 60 constituencies up and down the country. And another untruth: the Asian political voice is loud and clear and Britain’s politicians would be foolish to tune it out. So, there is lots of talk. Jagtar Singh of the Sikh Federation, the UK’s first and only Sikh political party with aspirations to represent the 336,000 Sikhs totted up by the census, tells TOI: “The Sikh vote matters in about 40 to 50 key constituencies, marginals, where there are a large number of Sikh votes and where there are (Labour) cabinet and junior Ministers that ‘depend’ on the Sikh vote.” Adds Hasmukh Shah of the VHP, which has aspirations to speak for the UK’s 750,000 Hindus, “The Hindu vote matters materially in at least nine key constituencies.” Says Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Britain, which is urging its 1.2 million co-religionists to ‘Help make the Muslim vote count’: “At least 11 constituencies have the highest Muslim vote. There, they can make a difference.” But here’s the sad reality, says Lord Bhikhu Parekh, leading academic and author of several books on the dilemmas of policy in multi-ethnic Britain.” Britain’s Asian community is politically unimportant. Unlike the Afro-Caribbeans, it has no cabinet or even junior ministers. It has no great leaders. If the Asian community matters, it matters only because of its numerical strength in some areas. At the end of the day, that doesn’t count for much.” Punters agree on the state of Asian political impotence. Many believe Asian political disinterest is starkly revealed by the shocking fact that Asians will not automatically support Asian candidates in at least four key constituencies. Instead, the Asian vote in Gujarati Muslim-dominant Blackburn, Sikh-dominant Wolverhampton South and Edinburgh West and Muslim-Hindu-dominant Leicester South is expected to go to white candidates. Explains Jagtar Singh: “I know we have Sandy Parmar, a Sikh woman married to a Hindu, standing in Wolverhampton South. But she is not a practising Sikh. The Sikh community would be loathe to lose its sympathetic MP, the Labour incumbent Rob Marris. He has done a lot on Sikh issues. Sikhs don’t care if their Wolverhampton South MP is Sikh or not. They do care that he is interested in Sikh issues.” Says Baan Singh, who is visibly disinterested in co-religionist and incumbent Leicester South MP Parmjit Singh Gill, “He may be one of ours, but what will we gain from voting for him?” Adds Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman from Ahmedabad, whoruns a financial services company in the Gujarati Muslim dominant north-western English constituency of Dewsbury, “It’s interesting that Gujarati Muslim Imtiaz Ameen, who is challenging Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the Gujarati Muslim-dominant Blackburn constituency, may even lose his deposit. Gujarati Muslims would prefer to vote for the man who has done something for them, rather than voting for just another Gujarati Muslim.” Parekh says the palpable Asian disaffection with Asian candidates stems from the complete failure to make a mark by the seven Asian MPs in the last parliament. Says Parekh, “Out of all the Asian MPs, everyone who claims to speak for the community, there has been no political heavyweight, no one who could justifiably be seen as the Asian Paul Boateng.” Many agree Britain’s Asians are very far away from producing a Paul Boateng, Parekh’s reference to the articulate, highly-educated, urbane Afro-Caribbean Labour cabinet minister now destined to be Britain’s high commissioner in South Africa. Boateng is close to Tony Blair and enjoyed a glittering career as a lawyer before he rose to the very highest ranks of government. Laments Sareshwala, “the Asian marginalisation has happened because the British Asian is too preoccupied with making money.” He insists: “If UK Muslims, or British Asians as a whole want to matter, they have to adopt the Jewish model of empowerment. They need to get into important positions in the media. They need to join political parties at university level. The educated and talented Asian needs to go into politics rather than only trying to become rich.” But still the Sikh, Hindu and Muslim drumroll continues: make your vote count because it can make or break the government. Reading between the lines, that may be the British government of 2050, not the one elected in 2005.