As a desperate Zac Goldsmith accuses Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan of giving ‘cover to extremists’ the racism and Islamophobia of the Conservative Mayoral campaign could not be more blatant. One element of this has been the barrage of recent propaganda material targeted at Indian and Sri Lankan voters which is not only deeply racist and a despicable attempt at colonial-style divide and rule, but also completely misrepresents the views of South Asian people in London about Indian PM Narendra Modi.
We condemn the campaign by Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron which:
- Dredged up once again tired racist stereotypes of Asians as all owners of ‘corner shops’ and other small businesses for whom ‘protecting property’ was the only concern (never mind the Tory policies which have forced small owners out of business in favour of its corporate retail giant friends and funders), whilst simultaneously using these stereotypes to promote the usual dog-whistle scapegoating of the people the Tories would like us to believe commit robberies (surprise, not the Camerons and the others named in the #PanamaPapers).
- In an almost pathetically transparent and inept piece of scaremongering, simply invented a devilish Labour ‘jewellery tax’ because, apparently, everyone knows that all Indians and Sri Lankans have piles of gold jewellery stashed away which they are much more worried about than jobs, housing, transport or any of the issues which other Londoners are voting on in these elections.
- Sent out Zac Goldsmith’s customised letter, addressing people by their first name, in areas with comparatively high Asian populations to everyone with an ‘Indian sounding name’ assuming that they were Indian – a notion as racist and ridiculous as the assumption that South Asians all speak ‘Indian’. Most strikingly, people who were assumed from their names to be Muslim were excluded from this list, outrageously suggesting that Indians cannot be Muslim! Everyone whose name ended with Singh was assumed (often erroneously) to be a Sikh, and sent a special Sikh letter. At the same time, many Sikhs with other surnames, and a number of people with no links whatever to India – people of Singaporean heritage for example – were assumed to be Hindu and expected to be thrilled that Zac had celebrated Diwali, Navratri and Janmashtami and been to Rajasthan, Dehra Dun and Delhi.
- Told those assumed to be Hindus that Goldsmith wanted to keep “our streets safe from terror attacks”; there was no letter for Muslim residents, suggesting that they had no interest in being safe from terrorist attacks! At the same time ‘dog-whistle’ Islamophobia was again invoked as Sadiq Khan was described in Tory propaganda as ‘radical’ and ‘dangerous’.
- In what the Tories obviously saw as their masterstroke, invoked the Modi factor: surely Indians could not resist voting Tory en masse when reminded of the warm and borderline obsequious welcome Zac and his boss extended to the man known as the ‘Butcher of Gujarat’ after he presided over genocidal attacks on the Muslim minority community in Gujarat while Chief Minister there. The view that ‘all Indians love Modi and vote Tory’ had after all pervaded the propaganda around Modi’s November visit. If they had bothered to find out, Goldsmith and Cameron would have known that in reality a very large proportion of people of Indian heritage in the UK – including Dalits and a large proportion of Sikhs, Muslims and Christians, and progressive people of all backgrounds – condemn Narendra Modi, his fascist policies and his silence and inaction in face of the killings of minority groups and Dalits by the stormtroopers of the Hindu right, particularly the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which he is a lifelong member.
While the campaign recycles all the existing racist and colonial tropes about South Asians, it also reinforces the vicious lies and myths circulated by the Hindu right in India as well as here in Britain – that India is a Hindu upper caste nation, and that no-one else belongs there, and that anyone from a Hindu background is defined by their religion and can be mobilised through an appeal to religious chauvinism. This is one of the most pernicious, if less visible aspects of the Conservative mayoral campaign and must be exposed and confronted.
(1 For example, of the nearly 1.5 million people of Indian origin in Britain according to the 2011 Census, Dalits are estimated to number half a million. And almost a quarter of the 1.5 million people of Indian origin gave their religion to the 2011 Census as Muslim or Christian, belonging to the very communities who have been persecuted in India by Modi’s government (their existence has been ignored by the Tory campaign).