London: With Pakistani-origin Sadiq Khan likely to become London’s new mayor, his Conservative foe Zac Goldsmith is using Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s name to woo Hindu and Sikh votes.
Balloting is taking place on Thursday in England, Scotland and Wales to elect mayors and fill up assembly and parliamentary seats. The battle for London’s mayorship has become the most high-profile contest.
All indications are that Khan, 45, a former human rights lawyer and a Labour MP from Tooting since 2005, will emerge the winner. That will make the former bus driver’s son Europe’s most powerful Muslim politician.
Khan was the transport minister in then Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government in 2009-10. He was the first Muslim minister to attend Cabinet meetings.
Married to solicitor Saadiya Ahmed, the couple have two daughters. Khan is proud of his British linkages. “I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,” he said in a New York Times interview.
Khan’s grandparents migrated to newly created Pakistan following India’s blood-soaked partition in 1947. His parents shifted to Britain just before he was born in 1970.
A YouGov poll gave the Labour candidate a 16-point lead among first-preference votes, with 48 percent of support, followed by Goldsmith on 32 percent.
When second-choice votes were reallocated, the split was 60 percent support for Khan and 40 percent for Goldsmith. Arguably, the election is slanted in Khan’s favour. The new London Mayor will replace Boris Johnson, a Conservative who has held the post since 2008.
Khan has promised to address the city’s housing crisis, freeze transport fares for four years, create more job opportunities for Londoners and cut pollution. “I want all Londoners to have the same opportunities that our city gave me: a home they can afford, a high-skilled job with decent pay, an affordable and modern transport system and a safe, clean and healthy environment,” he has said.
Muslim groups complain the mayoral contest has sunk to “disturbing lows”. The Conservatives have been accused of trying to exploit racial tensions to help Goldsmith win, the Financial Times said.
Customised leaflets addressed to Hindu, Sikh and Tamil voters mention subjects such as Narendra Modi, the 1984 killing of Sikhs in India and the Sri Lankan civil war.
The Muslim Association of Britain said it was disturbed how some candidates had gone to extreme measures to attack either Islamic practices or Muslims to attract support.
Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a civil liberties group, said Goldsmith was “obviously not interested in Muslim voters”. She said the leaflets “effectively highlight to Hindu voters that Sadiq Khan is a Muslim”.
One leaflet had a picture of Goldsmith meeting Modi on a visit to London and pointed out that Khan did not. Ash Mukherjee, 40, a management consultant from India who has lived in Britain since 1993, said he thought Goldsmith was “subtly positioning” himself “as pro-Modi and therefore pro-Hindu” against Khan.