London gets its own 'Obama'

May 08, 2016, 10:05 IST | Agencies

Newly-elected Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan says Londoners have chosen hope over fear

London: Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday gave an effusive thank you to supporters on Twitter after his emphatic win, as British Pakistanis erupted in joy at a fellow Pakistani-origin national winning the top post.

Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Newly-elected London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Thanking supporters after his historic win, Khan tweeted: “A huge thank you to everyone who voted Labour, volunteered today or campaigned with us. Today was an amazing victory for hope over fear and for unity over division,” he posted.

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of former prime minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto and chairman of Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was quick to recall, on twitter, his interaction with Khan. “Congratulations @SadiqKhan for being elected mayor of London. I remember he and I spoke at Salmaan Taseer’s memorial. British Pakistanis need a positive role model,” he tweeted.

His election as the mayor of the biggest and most dynamic city in western Europe assumes significance in the backdrop of growing Islamophobia in the continent.

Many Londoners, including from the Muslim community, have welcomed his win. “The United States has had Obama, and this is our moment. It’s amazing that London is about to get its first Muslim mayor,” Aisha, a Londoner, said.

Khan’s father came to Britain from Pakistan and for 25 years drove London buses. He lived in a small council house with his parents, six brothers and sister — another aspect of Khan’s life people admire him for.

The 45-year-old Pakistani-origin Khan won 57 per cent of the vote to easily beat Zac Goldsmith (43 per cent). His tally of 1,310,143 votes gives him the largest personal mandate of any politician in British history, The Guardian reported. Even Goldsmith’s sister Jemima — former wife of Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan — tweeted that it was “sad that Zac’s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be”.

Son of a Pakistani bus driver who grew up to become a human rights lawyer, an MP and later transport minister in the Gordon Brown government — making him the first Muslim minister to attend a cabinet meeting — Khan’s is the quintessential heart warming immigrant success story.

With his win, Khan has ended eight years of Conservative control of City Hall and helped boost the morale of party leader Jeremy Corbyn on a day Labour were beaten into third place in Scotland by the Tories and had a poor showing in England and Wales. During the campaign, Muslim groups complained the mayoral contest had sunk to “disturbing lows”, with the Conservatives being accused of trying to exploit racial tensions to help Goldsmith win.

Customised leaflets addressed to Hindu, Sikh and Tamil voters mentioned subjects such as Narendra Modi, the 1984 killing of Sikhs in India and the Sri Lankan civil war. One leaflet had a picture of Goldsmith meeting Modi on a visit to London. Another alleged that the Labour party would tax gold jewellery owned by many Indian families, which was seen as a bid to stoke community tensions.

Khan has promised to freeze fares of public transport for four years and ensure that half of all new homes built in London would be “genuinely affordable”, even as he becomes London’s “most pro-business mayor yet”.

As expected, in much of the Western world, the focus was not on Khan’s abilities as a politician, but on his religion.

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