In recent years South Asians have participated enthusiastically in the Indian and Pakistani general elections held in 2014 and 2013, respectively. This has led to much debate about the kind of democracies these countries are, or are in the process of becoming. Both the Indian and Pakistani diaspora also took an interest in these elections and it is highly likely that the BJP government will wish to invest in the goodwill of the Indian diaspora in western countries as it has done in the past, and encourage Indian entrepreneurs to invest in India.
Ties between the South Asian diaspora and the Indian subcontinent are still very strong, and to this day South Asians living abroad support the cricket teams of their country of origin, as was evident during the recent world cup match between England and Bangladesh in Australia. Bangladesh won, leading to much jubilation among the Bangladeshi community there. Similarly, the cricket match between Ireland and India was won by India while the match between Scotland and Sri Lanka was won by Sri Lanka.
In Britain, South Asians contribute to the ethnic minority vote and it is common knowledge that some of the major political parties have traditionally attempted to ‘woo’ the ethnic minority voters. According to one study, 68 per cent of the ethnic minorities supported the Labour Party in 2010. The ethnic minorities constitute around 14 per cent of the population (eight per cent of the electorate) and this percentage is likely to increase over time. But recent studies suggest that trends may be changing and the Labour Party can no longer count on the ethnic minority vote. For example, according to some media reports, Indian support for Labour has dropped from 77 per cent in 1997 to 45 percent in 2014.
Pakistani support has also fallen from 77 percent to 57 per cent. This may be because as some sections of the South Asian community have become more prosperous and upwardly mobile their interests have changed. In Britain, class identity has an influence on which party voters support, and to that extent electoral politics in Britain are very different from Indian and South Asian politics. But a report published by the Runnymede Trust says that ‘social class does not appear to explain ethnic minority voting for the Labour party, nor indeed to increase it for the Conservatives’. On the other hand, some people from the ethnic minorities may feel alienated from mainstream British politics and political parties and may not vote at all. The forthcoming elections will show what the latest trends are.
A study conducted by the Runnymede Trust in 2012 found that the ethnic minorities in Britain are more concerned about certain issues than white British voters are. These include unemployment, education, law and order and inflation/prices, as well as wars in the Middle East. However, unemployment is the main issue they are concerned about. The study also found that ‘among all ethnic minority respondents, 57% agree with the statement “there is prejudice against ethnic minorities in the UK”, with around half of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups agreeing, and nearly three-quarters of Black Caribbean people agreeing’. It goes on to argue that ‘if the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are to increase their vote share, they will arguably need to find ways to respond’ to the concerns of the ethnic minorities. It is also worth noting that while controlling immigration is one of Labour’s election issues in 2015, the research findings of the aforementioned study indicate that it is mainly the white British voters who are concerned about it.
While sensitivities about racism and religious identities need to be taken into account in building a multicultural Britain, in more recent months, the issue of Islamic radicalisation has bothered both the white majority and the ethnic minorities. After the three young Bangladeshi girls from East London ran away to Syria, South Asian parents and indeed the Bangladeshi community have made it quite clear that they expect the state to protect them and their children from these kinds of unwanted influences and provide greater security.
The South Asian vote will be influenced by all these issues and in some parts of the country will have the potential to determine election outcomes, as British political parties and their candidates are increasingly realising.
Dr Sagarika Dutt
Subject Leader for International Relations
School of Social Sciences
Nottingham Trent University