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London likely to get first Muslim mayor, opponent plays Modi card

London: The son of a Pakistani bus driver looks set to be elected as London's first Muslim mayor and the first such leader of a European Union capital in local elections tomorrow. Labour party candidate

India TV News Desk Updated on: May 05, 2016 16:50 IST
Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan

London: With Pakistani-origin Sadiq Khan likely to become London's new mayor, his Conservative foe Zac Goldsmith is using Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's name to woo Hindu and Sikh votes.

Balloting is taking place today in England, Scotland and Wales to elect mayors and fill up assembly and parliamentary seats. The battle for London's mayorship has become the most high-profile contest.

Khan's lead has been fairly consistent throughout the mayoral campaign, despite his party being embroiled in an unseemly anti-Semitic row over the last week.

The 45-year-old was himself accused of racism as a video emerged of him referring to moderate Muslims as "Uncle Toms".

"I do regret using the phrase and I am sorry," he said in a BBC radio interview today but went on to accuse his rival, the son of late billionaire Sir James Goldsmith and brother of Jemima Khan, of using "divisive and increasingly desperate" tactics.

"We need a mayor that will unite us, not divide us. I've had seven months of negative, divisive and increasingly desperate stuff from him," he said.

He also addressed Hindu and Sikh voters directly to say that he had no plans to "tax or nick their gold", in reference to some Goldsmith campaign leaflets which had implied that Khan would go after London's minority communities who tend to have gold reserves in temples and at home.

An Opinium poll for 'Evening Standard' yesterday put Khan on 35 per cent of first preference votes and Goldsmith at 26 per cent. The lead is even stronger on second preference votes, with Khan leading by 57 per cent to 43 per cent.

None of the other candidates, including Kashmiri-origin Ankit Love, gets more than four per cent.

Khan is a former human rights lawyer and an MP from Tooting, east London, since 2005. He was a prominent figure in former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Cabinet and had resigned from the shadow Cabinet last year to launch his campaign to replace Boris Johnson whose second and final term as London mayor comes to an end this week.

He has relied on his working class roots and upbringing on a London council housing estate as strong credentials against Goldsmith's more privileged background.

Khan has also tried to distance himself from the unpopular Labour party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who he had in fact nominated to widen the field of candidates.

Goldsmith has sought to capitalise on Corbyn's unpopularity and warned of the dangers of the Khan-Corbyn project and not letting the "Lefties" gain control of London's City Hall. The Oxford-educated billionaire also tried to cash in on Narendra Modi's popularity among Indian-origin Londoners and issued leaflets with an image of him shaking hands with the Indian Prime Minister during the latter's visit to the UK.

The message read, "Standing up for the British Indian community." But while it seems his tactics seem to have had little effect on voters, poll pundits warn that the race is far from over as a low turnout could change things around at the last minute.

(With PTI inputs)


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