-Prerna Lau Sian-
On 7th May, Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London in the 2016 Mayoral elections after receiving the highest amount of votes more than any previous London Mayor. Khan received 1,310,143 votes, 57 per cent of the total final votes defeating Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith who received 43 per cent of the capital’s votes. Khan is London’s first ethnic minority Mayor and the first Muslim to become Mayor of a major Western capital.
The electoral campaign for Mayor of London, however, hadn't been free from controversy. There were numerous occasions where Khan had shared platforms with Islamic extremists when he was a Labour Councillor for the London Borough of Wandsworth. In 2003, Khan had attended a conference that was addressed by Yasser al-Siri, a convicted terrorist, and Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, a member of the now banned organisation al-Muhajiroun, who trained the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan.
Despite the Conservative party highlighting these facts, many found fault with Zac Goldsmith's campaign, including Conservative supporters themselves who claimed that Khan’s religion was being used against him. Instead of alienating supporters, the campaign against Khan backfired and resulted in galvanising further support for Khan.
Khan’s background as compared to Zac Goldsmith’s also assisted in gaining the new London Mayor support where many Londoners claimed they could relate to Khan more. Khan was one of eight children born to Pakistani immigrants. His father, a bus driver, and his mother, a seamstress, lived on a south London housing estate. In contrast, Goldsmith’s wealthy background worked to his detriment.
Tactics used in India’s communal politics can be drawn in comparisons with the London Mayoral elections where religion and backgrounds were used by the media and campaigners to achieve the desired result. Khan’s Muslim background worked to his advantage, as not only did he have the support from his own community, but he also managed to attract some support from the Hindu and Sikh communities.A few days before he was elected as Mayor of London, Khan visited the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden claiming it to be one of his “favourite places in London”. This would have assisted the Hindu community in voting for Khan as he had shown himself to be embracing of Hinduism by even posting a picture himself on Facebook with a pandit tying a mauli onto his hand.
Khan’s election as Mayor draws a stark comparison to the rest of Europe where there is an increase in far-right parties and growing anti-Islamic sentiments. In Germany, the far right anti-immigration party AfD (Alternative for Germany) party is increasing in national polls, as is Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France. Khan’s election under the current climate in Europe, where people are afraid of the surge in Muslim migrants, illustrates that London’s diverse population isn’t swayed by Khan’s Muslim background and voters can look beyond religion.
Despite campaigns launched against Khan, what can be clearly illustrated from his success is that anyone is able to make it in politics no matter what religion or social background one comes from. This follows India’s secular model where anyone belonging to any religion or background can get to the highest levels of power. Despite Indian Prime Minister Modi’s poor background, he was still able to get elected with a resounding majority. Modi is also proud of his Hindu heritage and despite Indian and international media trying to malign him because of this, it did not deter voters. Similarly, despite Khan being a proud Muslim, it did not act as a barrier for voters. All eyes are now on Khan to see whether he is able to uphold promises made to the Capital during his election campaign and build stronger relations with London’s diverse communities.
(The writer is a London-based Barrister, writer and broadcaster on Nusound Radio 92FM)