Playing the Modi Card in London’s Mayoral Elections

A flyer from the Conservative party candidate Zac Goldsmith sent out to British Indian voters in London.

A flyer from the Conservative party candidate Zac Goldsmith sent out to British Indian voters in London.

Rival candidates are pulling out all stops to woo Londoners for the forthcoming elections to the post of the Mayor in May; naturally, the Indian community is a prime target. Like everyone else, I too received flyers from the hopefuls, but I was left aghast at the pitch.

“The Mayor of London is your ambassador to the world, the person who is responsible for embodying all the hopes and dreams that lie in the heart of Londoners…but millions of Londoners are being priced out of our city. I’m running to be Mayor to ensure our city’s successes are enjoyed by all, and I will stand up for everyone who lives in our city,” a mailer from the Conservative Party candidate, the multi-millionaire Zac Goldsmith said. It then added: “The Gujarati Community has contribute massively to London.”

Nothing wrong with these assumptions of me being a Gujarati. I am proud of my ancestral connections to Gujarat, where the Zoroastrian community first landed in India in the 10th century or thereabouts. I speak the language and I follow the customs of ritual, dress, and so on.

But I object very strongly to the assumption that being a British Indian and, more specifically, a Gujarati resident of London, that I would not vote for the opposition. This is supposedly because – as it states in Goldsmith’s leaflet – “Sadiq Khan won’t stand up for the London’s Gujarati community.” And why should this be so? The mailer gave a few points, two of which were: Sadiq Khan supported Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, who wanted to ban Prime Minister Modi from visiting the UK. Khan did not attend the ‘UK Welcomes Modi’ event at Wembley Stadium last year. Secondly, Khan’s party apparently supports a wealth tax on family jewellery.

If I had any lingering doubts about Sadiq Khan being an effective Mayor of London, such negative campaigning would immediately make me go out and cast my vote for him. The hideous, patronising assumption that I as a Londoner would make my decisions on the future of this great capital city on the basis of a wealth tax, or worse still on the lack of support for the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, is mind-boggling.

I wonder if this is a new trend in electioneering or whether only London’s South Asians are deemed gullible enough to vote en bloc according to ethno-religious prejudice and some sly referencing.

Love of bling

A friend of mine wittily pointed out that the Conservative Party had grasped that ‘bling’ interested “British Asians”. He may be right, going by what the flyer says: “The first job of the Mayor of London is to protect Londoners. I recognise that far too often Gujarati households are targeted for burglary due to families owning gold and valuable family heirlooms.”

I see it as a scandalous misstep by the psephologists of the Conservative Party sifting the electoral roll for likely surnames and (often entirely wrongly) coming to the conclusion that they are addressing (a) Gujaratis, (b) Hindus, and (c) bigots, who will vote as one.

It doesn’t stop there. The Conservative party flyer has pictures of a garlanded Zac Goldsmith visiting the Swaminarayan Satsang Stanmore Temple; Zac Goldsmith speaking at Shree Swaminarayan Willesden Temple; and Zac Goldsmith, complete with a tikka on his forehead joining Janmashtami celebrations at Bhaktivedanta Manor.

To add insult to injury, I received a circular by post a day after this in the form of a letter from the Rt Hon David Cameron MP, Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party. After extolling the virtues of his man Zac and why Cameron was backing him for Mayor, the second paragraph states: “The Gujarati community makes an extraordinary contribution to London and to Britain. Closer ties between the UK and India have been a priority for me as Prime Minister. I was pleased to join Zac and thousands of British Gujaratis in welcoming Prime Minister Modi to the UK last year.”

I checked with other Indian friends, including those whose surnames did not sound Gujarati. In the circulars they received the ‘Gujarati’ label was replaced by ‘British Indians’, and they got an extra bit about how Goldsmith would ‘work to strengthen London’s friendship with India and having spent time in Rajasthan, Dehradun and Delhi is proud of the Conservative Party’s commitment to the British Indian community.’

The flyer for Sadiq Khan, candidate for the post of Mayor of London

The flyer for Sadiq Khan, candidate for the post of Mayor of London

On the third day an A5 flyer arrived from the Labour Party and headed ‘Sadiq Khan for London’, who was described as ‘The Council Estate boy who will fix London’s housing crisis. It was simple, positive, and on message, aiming to: (a) make renting more affordable and secure, (b) build homes for first time buyers,(c) give first dibs to Londoners on new- build homes rather than to overseas speculators.

On the fourth day I did what I had not yet done: joined the campaign to elect Sadiq Khan Mayor of London!