British NRIs grit their teeth at the new government
— Kul Bhushan
NRIs may well grit their teeth at the new Conservative-Lib Dem government. The new British government will come down hard on immigration and introduce economic policies that help the rich. Plus, the Tories usually have cool relations with India. But many of the estimated 2.5 million Asians voted for the Tories and Lib Dems. The rich Hindu NRIs usually vote for Conservatives to protect their business interests but Muslims, angry at Britain’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, voted for the Conservatives. From a record number of 89 Asian candidates, including 30 from the Conservatives, 18 have been elected.
A businessman in Leicester, Jolly Seth, said, “What we see now is a change in Asian voting pattern. Traditionally, they have been Labour supporters, but today the Lib Dems are pulling in a lot of Asian support, especially from the young professionals. Mostly, Asian business people did not vote Labour as they feel they are suffering because of their policies; the working class are unemployed, and they blame the Labour government.”
London-based author and journalist, Shamlal Puri, said, “Labour has traditionally had a soft spot for Asian candidates as they lay great value on the Asian vote. Conservatives are not pro-Asian in many ways and just give a lip service to capture the Asian vote. A lot of British Asians turned to their Labour MPs for help in bringing their relatives to the UK on compassionate grounds when the immigration laws blocked their entry. The Labour Party has encouraged enterprise involving Asians. The Conservatives are seen pro-white with little to contribute to the Asian diaspora here. But the Tories have taken note of this and have now thrown an olive branch to the minorities here.”
A property owner and entrepreneur, Renuka Bhatt-Dhalla, said, “Britain desperately needs bold, decisive government with dynamic economic policies if we are to avoid the nightmare into which Greece has plunged. The Asians can expect tighter immigration control so it will probably affect them in terms of calling their friends and family to visit Britain, or marrying foreigners.
“I feel Labour Party is the closest to the aspiration of Asians because I have lived in this country for 45 years and it was the Labour government that settled the Ugandan Asians with great compassion. The majority of these Asians are now quite well to do and have contributed to UK’s economy. Labour councillors always take great interest in our cultural activities and are always present at our functions. Recently, they all attended a Holi function organised by the Asian community and it was nice to see the councillors covered with the colours of holy and really enjoying themselves,” she added.
A leading businessman and philanthropist, Raj Loomba, said, “Immigration is of crucial importance for Asians. It is felt that it needs to be controlled both from eastern Europe and other countries. Unskilled workers may not be allowed as there is high unemployment here. The economic policies need to boost business for the turnaround.”
A broadcaster, Chaman Lal Chaman, said, “The Conservatives have decided to cut immigration from the non-EU countries, whereas Lib Dems will grant amnesty to all illegal immigrants living in the country for the last ten years. Let us see how they compromise on this issue. The total number of illegal immigrants is estimated to be around a million people. Both Conservatives and Labour believe that this amnesty will send a signal of safe passage to further influx of illegal immigrants. The Conservatives have promised stricter border controls.”
Although the Labour Party had very cordial relations with India – after all, it is the Labour who were in favour of the independence of India – the Tories have no choice but to establish cordial ties with India. Says Shamlal, “The Britishers need India more than India needs them. India’s services industry is a valuable asset to the UK because in the current credit crunch they have to turn to countries like India to obtain these services at lower costs. India is a major trading partner and an investor in Britain.”
Adds Chaman, “Labour ministers who have been visiting India have shown a great deal of interest in India as a major emerging economic power and of major investors like Tata and Mittal who own major British companies. Mittal is one of the wealthiest persons in the UK, and he still holds an Indian passport. Now the new government will have to establish strong Indo-British ties.”
A professional moaned, “I am sad that Lib Dems would get into bed with the Tories. Having a Tory grandee as the PM just puts Britain back to the class-ridden, elitist doldrums of before.”
* * *
Couldn’t vote in British elections; use India’s electronic voting machines
Britain should use electronic voting machines from India to avoid the angry scenes at many polling stations when voters could not vote in the just concluded elections. Televised on global news channels, these scenes were a poor showcase for the democratic process in Britain.
Hundreds of voters were turned away from many U.K. polling stations amid long queues after they were prevented from voting in London, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and elsewhere. After voters angrily protested at not being able to cast their votes as the polling stations closed, police was called in to keep the peace in many locations. Voters staged sit-ins and tried to stop polling officers from taking away the ballot boxes.
All this mayhem and anger can be avoided by using the simple electronic voting machines developed for India’s Election Commission. India’s 671 million voters, including illiterates, used these user-friendly, tamper proof machines successfully in the last elections. Simple to operate, easy to install, these machines ensure secrecy, eliminate invalid votes and declare results instantly. Costing around $300 each, they need to be bought once and used again and again.
Thus the long rows of polling officers who count the votes manually can also be done away with as the results are tabulated by these machines without any chances of fraud as demonstrated in India. For an estimated 45 million British voters, these machines can be easily used with great manpower savings for vote counting. Britain has been trying to save on the cost of elections by employing a minimum number of persons for this exercise. When the voters came in larger numbers than expected in this election, the system broke down in many polling stations.
Had all these voters cast their ballots, the results could well be different in some constituencies where the margin of victory is wafer thin. Thus, the democratic process has been compromised by following an antiquated election system.
One livid British voter shouted, “I have been enfranchised and this Victorian system, more appropriate for a third world country, cannot be used here.” Jenny Watson, head of the Election Commission, told the BBC that it would undertake a “thorough review” of the problems, and acknowledged that there may need to be a change in the law to redraw the rules. It’s not the laws and rules of extending the voting hours but the mechanism of recording the votes in a modern manner that can avoid these ugly scenes.
A situation like the U.S. presidential election in 2000 cannot develop with these machines when the results rested on whether disputed votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore in Florida could be counted. In the end, the courts stopped a re-count — handing victory to George W Bush. British and American observers travel to third world countries to monitor their election process; now it is high time that Britain and USA adapted the systems developed in an emerging country, India.