Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Strange Case of British Hindu Vote

The British Hindus, particularly the first generation ones, vote Conservative. 

This is strange, because most of them, yours truly included, are in this country because of the Immigration Policy of Labour Governments under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. In fact, the successive Conservative Governments, with Theresa May as the Home Secretary and then the Prime Minister, made things difficult for Indians to come to Britain. And, even if the later changes may not have affected people who are already in the UK, it did affect their ability to bring their parents and relatives. And, yet, the community remains decidedly Conservative, and Anti-Labour.

Indeed, there are strong reasons with which the preference for Conservatives could be explained. The First Generation immigrants are relatively young - so they use public services such as the NHS less - and they have little engagement in the wider community to have any first hand experience of deprievation. They are also likely to fall in the middle bracket of earnings. Many of them also work in the City, and despite their own positions being limited to IT departments, they are in thrall of the Investment Bankers who they treat as models of aspiration: They love to vote Conservative as that makes them belong to the same community, at least for a few days. Other members of the community is also into professions, Lawyers, Doctors, Accountants and IT Workers, and this makes them more likely to be averse to Labour's Tax-and-Spend politics, and closer to Low Tax Conservatives.

And, yet, Conservative Party was cracking down on this very segment lately, closing the tax loopholes on contracting - which many of them use - and making it harder for small landlords, many of whom are British Indians. Besides, at least this time, the Conservative Manifesto indicates that the taxes will rise, as the earlier manifesto promises of tax freeze has been conspicuously dropped. The proposed rise of National Insurance is also going to affect this same community, as many British Hindus are self-employed (though a larger number of British Pakistanis are).

These policies have made the Indian community slightly less committed to Conservatives, and yet, there is one strong reason that the community can't vote Labour. This is primarily because the Labour is perceived to be close to Muslims, an impression that was strengthened with Sadiq Khan's elevation as London Mayor. It did not matter that one of the most prominent deputies of Mr Khan is Rajesh Agarwal, a first generation Indore-born immigrant from India who is a Fintech entrepreneur. It is Mr Khan's Pakistani heritage which bothers the British Hindus more than any other issue.

British Indians traditionally voted Labour because of the traditional affinity of the minority community with the internationalist left politics. The influx of the professional migrants since the late 90s has changed that equation. But the limitation of labour strategy with the community was to see it through the prism of class, rather than identity. The Labour strategists somehow overlooked the fact that first generation Indians often import their politics for India: They are more sensitive to religious and caste politics, something which Conservative Party exploits.

Consider, for example, the legislation against Caste discrimination at workplace. The Hindu Caste system, which generations of British commentators considered scandalous (though the British Colonial Administration used it as an instrument of state policy in India), is very much alive and well in Twenty-first century British workplaces. Gordon Brown's Labour Government alienated the British Indian (Hindu) community first time when it tried to bring legislation to outlaw caste discrimination (just like discrimination on the basis of Age, Gender, Disability, Race, Religion and Sexual Preferences are). Many British Indian MPs of the Labour Party opposed the legislation, as did the Conservative Party, purportedly on the basis of opposing 'more legislation' but primarily to pander the British Hindu community whose votes they wanted.

And, this continues. Much of the Conservative campaign technique was to pander identity issues of the British Hindu community, going to the extent of circulating, on social media, images of alleged leaflets being distributed in Muslim communities supporting Labour. Indeed, no such leaflet was finally found, and the organisation distributing them turned out to be unrelated, but the Conservative strategy for British Indians remained strongly identity-based. Part of this conversation how friendly David Cameron was with Mr Modi, somehow whitewashing the long history of hostility of Conservative Party to India.

Indeed, British Hindus matter less in UK elections than they think they do. They make the second biggest immigrant community after the Polish and one that has a right to vote because of the Commonwealth heritage, but they are too concentrated in certain areas to have an overall impact. Their numbers, about 800,000 including those of Indian ancestry, are also smaller than British Muslims, which is around 3 million. Both parties indeed treat them as a constituency specific vote bank, with little leverage in overall policy but somewhat pandered before and during the election periods. That the community is susceptible to identity politics makes it even weaker, as it is unable to construct bridges with other communities to create a common politics of the immigrants. 

Indeed, if the Conservative Party wins a big majority in today's election, the impact of Hindu vote will be marginal: Of far more consequence will be the millions of UKIP voters who would switch to Conservatives in the hope of keeping Britain white and isolated. Immigrants of Indian origin voting for Conservatives are likely to find themselves isolated, and in the receiving end of more legislation aimed at curbing immigration, rights of contractors, small landlords and the self-employed. Their wishful thinking about India getting a special treatment from Brexit Britain is likely to be misplaced too, as the Conservative Party will be harder on immigration (because of UKIP votes), which is India's central demand for a free trade agreement.

But, then, who would tell Turkeys that Christmas is a really bad idea? 


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