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The rise and fall of a pioneer politician

Common curry, innit?


BLUE-EYED NO MORE: Sayeeda Warsi recently became the first British minister to be found guilty of breaching the ministerial code

A Pakistani-origin politician's swift rise and fall in Britain says much about the lip service paid by the Conservative government to Asian representation.

Sayeeda Warsi, an English baroness of Pakistani origin, who, if nothing else, lent colour and diversity to British cabinet meetings with her stylish salwar kameezes, will no longer feature at the government's top table by right, but only by invitation. Fast tracked into the cabinet two years ago, the 41-year-old was, this week demoted to the level of minister of state. "The rise and fall of a pioneer politician, " the BBC declared.

Warsi's father migrated to the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury - nicknamed 'Little Pakistan' - to be employed as a millworker and bus driver. Over time, he started his own successful bed manufacturing business. More importantly, he encouraged his daughter to go to university, which she did, qualifying as a lawyer from Leeds University.

Inspired by her father's now implicit faith in private enterprise, she tilted towards the right-ofcentre Conservatives. In 2005, Warsi stood as this party's parliamentary candidate in Dewsbury, only to be comprehensively beaten in an opposition Labour party stronghold.

But she caught Conservative leader David Cameron's attention. Attempting to modernise his party and widen its appeal after heavy defeats in three successive general elections, Cameron hand-picked her for membership of the House of Lords.

Ever since 9/11, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the UK has faced a terrorist threat. This also manifested itself in a suicide bombing of London's public transport system in 2005.

So when Cameron, as prime minister, included Warsi in his cabinet, this was interpreted as Muslim appeasement, particularly of Britain's Pakistani community. Warsi was appointed co-chairperson of the Conservatives and a minister without portfolio. This was extraordinary for the Conservative party, otherwise dominated by white Anglican men.

Warsi was tasked with delivering the Muslim and South Asian vote, which has historically gone to Labour. She even visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar with an eye on the sizeable Sikh vote in Britain.
People of Indian origin comprise the largest ethnic minority in UK. Yet their representation in administration has been no better than Keith Vaz enjoying a brief spell as minister of state under Labour.
Earlier this year, Cameron populistically claimed to an audience under the auspices of the Conservative Friends of India: "When I look at the talent behind me, I think we are going to be the first party to have a British Indian Prime Minister. " The fact is he doesn't consider any of his Indian-origin MPs to be suitable for even a middle ranking, let alone senior, position in his council of ministers.

What's even more disappointing is Cameron's neglect of Shailesh Vara. Re-elected to the House of Commons from his Cambridgeshire constituency in 2010, Vara, a solicitor, languishes at a modest level of assistant whip.

By his preferential treatment of Warsi and, by comparison, disregard of lawmakers of Indian descent, Cameron has exposed himself to the charge of caving in to the disaffected, while ignoring loyalists.
Recently, Warsi dubiously became the first ever British minister to be found guilty of breaching the ministerial code. She also had to apologise for her failure to declare rental income she had received in contravention of rules governing members of the House of Lords. Yet, Cameron has lacked the courage to dismiss her, lest this angers the Pakistanis.

It is fair game for Warsi to lure Indian votes. However, any attempt to separate Sikhs from their Indian identity would alarm Indian authorities. Indeed, it raised eyebrows that the Indian high commissioner to the UK was seemingly not invited to this year's baisakhi party hosted by Cameron.

It is perfectly understandable that Warsi will have an inherent soft corner for Pakistan. It is believed in Indian circles that she was part of a chorus that reined in Cameron after his legitimate criticism of India's neighbour in Bangalore in 2010. Now that she's officially next only in the pecking order to William Hague, the foreign secretary, any such bias creeping in, though, would make a mockery of Britain's quest for an enhanced partnership with India.

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