In mid March this year, many Sikh households in and around Southall in London, the United Kingdom, received a letter from the British prime minister, David Cameron. In it, he encouraged them to vote for the Conservative Party candidate, Zac Goldsmith, in the upcoming mayoral elections in May. The letter came as a surprise to many of the recipients. While it was common for politicians from Punjab to come and woo Punjabi Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) in the UK during election times in India, it was perhaps the first time that the Conservative Party—colloquially the Tory party—had made such blatant overtures to win the votes of the Punjabi and Sikh community of London.
“The Sikh and Punjabi communities make an extraordinary contribution to London and to Britain, whether in business and enterprise, raising families, or building stronger, more united communities,” Cameron stated in his letter. “In government I have been determined to listen and act on your concerns.” Cameron also mentioned his visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, which he characterized as a “deeply moving experience.” He told the voters that, as an MP, Goldsmith has consistently championed the Sikh community in his constituency, and that he would do the same as mayor of London. “I know he will be battering down my door to get the best possible deal for Londoners,” Cameron wrote.
Another letter, one by the candidate himself, accompanied the prime minister’s. Goldsmith’s campaign letter, as well, was targeted at Punjabis in general, but at Sikhs in particular. Amongst other things, he noted that he campaigned for the Golden Temple to remain in the hands of the Sikh community, and for documents detailing Operation Blue Star, the storming of Golden Temple in 1984—which suggested that a British secret service agent was recruited to help the Indian army plan the ambush—to be made public. “As an MP I campaigned against making the Golden Temple in Amritsar a UNESCO site in order to preserve control of this holy place in the hands of the Sikh community,” Goldsmith wrote. While mentioning that he campaigned against police budget cuts for the security of Londoners, Goldsmith made it a point to mention that both Sikh and Punjabi households are targeted for burglary as many families own gold and valuable family heirlooms. Goldsmith promised that, if elected, he would continue to host the Vaisakhi festival in City Hall, the office of the Mayor of London.
All other action plans, such as delivering affordable housing, better transport, cleaner air, safer streets— which are usually the main points of debate between mayoral candidates—received only a brief mention towards the end of the letter. Goldsmith’s campaign letter also came with a small A6-sized leaflet. On one side of this leaflet were three pictures of him, clicked during his recent visit to Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall, arguably the biggest gurdwara in the Europe. The other side was a scathing attack on the member of parliament Sadiq Khan, the Labour Party’s mayoral candidate, and Goldsmith’s rival in the race. The flyer was headlined “Sadiq Khan won’t stand up for London’s Sikh and Punjabi community.”