Where are all the Indians in the business of nation-making in election 2016?

By Dinesh Malhotra

Melbourne, June 22: The Indian settlers in Australia are seen by the mainstream society as very easy and good ‘fit’, committed to working hard and making their contribution to their adopted country. Most of them are educated and thus professional, with miniscule crime rate and paying their due share of taxes.

In return, asking for – very little when it comes to ‘power-sharing’ in the business of nation making.

At least, that has been the case for more than half a century. Some observers would say the two elections – 2013 federal and 2014 Victorian state election were two very strange if not weird exceptions.

Some observers opine in 2013 and 2014, it was the push by newly arrived Indians who generally had been here only for 10-15 years and found it attractive to put their hand up for ‘nation-making’.

“Finding themselves at the ‘take-off’ point of their lives, youth and ambition driving them to grab every opportunity to claim the center-stage, in this land of opportunity – ‘the lucky country’, at the time of 2013 Australian elections, they provided an unusual impetus to the political process with a number of them putting their hand up. In the process, they coaxed some drowsy ambitious older Indians off their desultory torpor as well” says an elder of the community having lived in Melbourne for more than 50 years.

Suddenly, there were too many Indian faces in the election fray. It seems Indians thought they had particularly endeared themselves to their political parties, to have been pre-selected on their tickets to contest elections.

The result was that we saw as many as 27 Indian faces in that election. Victoria had 12 candidates of Indian origin – 9 for the House of Reps and 3 for the Senate in Canberra.

The Liberal party led the way fielding 4 Indians for the House of Reps: Shilpa Hegde for the seat of Wills, Dr Ali Khan for the seat of Calwell, Nihal Samara for the seat of Lalor and Jag Chuga for the seat of Scullin – all in Victoria.

None of these seats were winnable for any of the Indian candidates. Liberal vote in each of these seats was sitting between 30 to 40% while Labor was comfortably sitting in the 60 to 70% stock buffers.

The Labor party preselected Manoj Kumar for the seat of Menzies in Victoria. It was the same story. 2010 Labor vote for Manoj was only 32.090% making it impossible for him to even make it into a respectable fight. He could manage on 25.66% for himself in 2013.

The Australian Greens had 4 Indian-descent candidates – Alex Bhathal for the seat of Batman and Dinesh Jayasuriya for the seat of Gorton, Gurminder Sekhon a Senate candidate – all for Victoria). They also had Indra Esguerra in the ACT, another Senate candidate for the Greens.

The Palmer United Party (PUP) picked up 10 lower house candidates from the Indian diaspora with 2 in Victoria, , 4 in NSW, 2 in South Australia and 2 in Western Australia.

Then there were 2 WikiLeaks Party Senate candidates from the Indian community – with Binoy Kampmark from Victoria and Suresh Rajan from Western Australia.

Then there were Bill Gupta, a 21st Century Australia party candidate for the seat of Batman and 2 senate candidates for Labor party – Bupinder Kumar Chibber, (NSW) and Lisa Singh (Tasmania).

4 Independent candidates added to the list: Ammar Khan, for the seat of Chifley (NSW), Kalpesh Patel, for the seat of Parramatta (NSW), Kim Mubarak, for the seat of Sterling (Western Australia) and Sam Swami Nathan (Senate candidate for NSW).

Although there was a sudden deluge of coloured faces, ‘our own people’ in the election in 2013 and it was a new chapter in Australian politics, axiomatic to the discerning eye it would have been that none of those would be reaching Canberra.

Election 2013 then, hardly a potential for an entry into the political history of Australia for the Indian diaspora, one could argue.

I wonder then, what prompted then Professor Amitabh Mattoo, director, Australia India Institute who said on August 7, 2013 he said: “You know when a diaspora has come of age when it directly intervenes in the electoral process of a democratic county that hosts them. I think the fact that Indians are candidates in the forthcoming general election in Australia is health and reflects their mainstreaming and growing empowerment.”

Rather than an expert comment, perhaps an unfortunate casual utterance by Prof Mattoo taking a phone call from a reporter in the middle of something important.

Other than Alex Bhathal who could potentially make it into a real fight, the seat was definitely not safe to win for the Greens. She only marginally increased the Greens vote from 2010 23.48% to 26.40% in 2013 and ended up with 39.39% to Labor’s 60.61%.

None of the Indians, despite the hype of PUP and WikiLeaks parties, won their seats; only Lisa Singh, an Australian born Fiji-Australian Tasmanian was elected to the Senate in Canberra.

The Liberal party repeated its exercise of repeating Indian Candidates in Victorian State elections 2014. It fielded 6 lower house candidates who had virtually no chance of winning. They were:

  • Gandhi Bevinakoppa for Clarinda with just 34.69% Liberal vote against Labors 65.31% in that area in 2010.
  • Tarun Singh for Werribee with just 34.60% Liberal vote against Labor’s 65.40% in 2010.
  • Dinesh Gourisetty for Tarneit with 38.9% Liberal vote against Labor’s 61.1% in 2010
  • Amita Gill for Bundoora with just 42.44% Liberal vote against Labor’s 57.56% in 2010.

Amita had a better Liberal vote because of her predecessor – another Indian – Goldy Brar in 2010 election who had managed to get the Liberal vote up to be 42.44% up from 34.88% recorded in 2006 when Kane Afford was the Liberal candidate.

Yet in 2014, Amita Gill could only manage 37.77% of the vote for the Liberal party in Bundoora.

  • Phulvinderjit Grewal for Yuroke with just 34.71% Liberal vote against Labor’s 2010 vote of 65.29%.
  • And finally, Nihal Samara for Altona with just 38.04% Liberal vote against Labor’s 2010 vote of 61.96%. Nihal’s vote fell by a whisker to 37.44%.
  • There were 3 Independent candidates in the fray as well: Abdul Mujeeb Syed (Tarneit), Shashi Turner (Kororoit) and Chandra Ojha (Bentleigh).

Again, like in the 2013 federal election, none of these Indian diaspora candidates won.

Thus, the question is – where are all those ambitious budding Indian pollies who wanted to partake in nation-making and change the shape of Australia for the better?

Possibly, the answer is in the economics of their political ambition that far outweighs the glamour, which comes with it.

Contesting the election is not cheap; you need a budget of anywhere between $50,000 (very conservative) to $100,000 plus for a seat; the parties help with material only.

Goldy Brar, a Liberal party candidate for the seat of Bundoora in 2010 told Bharat Times he had to chip in approximately $45,000 to $50,000 of his own money.

Although he substantially improved the Liberal vote, he did not win Bundoora which has always been a very safe Labor seat.

And why did he put his hand up?

“I am a passionate Liberal and I felt our community needs to be represented”, Goldy adds.

Still passionate for his politics, he is currently working in his own business.

The community is somewhat divided on this issue. There are some who are totally immune and indifferent to Indians in Australian politics. Then there are some who believe what happened in 2013 federal and 2014 state elections was and is essential – if at all the Indian diaspora has to have any hope of having one of their own member of parliament one day.

“Please do not think they were fools or novices who agreed to contest those unwinnable seats; a community has to put some runs on the board before laying claim to some good marginal or winnable seat and I see all of them (Indian candidate in 2013 and 2014 elections) as political warriors for our community”, said Sydney based Dave (ndra) M. Kaushal, a community elder who first fought and won a work-place election in early 1960s.

Param Jaswal, a prominent businessman and a very well connected and passionate Liberal disagrees.

“What’s the point of so many Indians contesting seats they cannot ever win?” say Mr Jaswal who took up this issue personally with Michael Kroger at a private dinner after the 2014 state elections and just before Mr Kroger regained the command of the Liberal party as state of Victoria president.

Are you happy to see no Indian in the election fray in 2016?

“I am happy to see no Indian contesting the unwinnable seats in 2016”, Mr Jaswal told Bharat Times.

Mr Jaswal is the person who famously contributed $16000/- paying for a cricket bat at a fund raiser auction for the seat of Bruce in 2013 election. He was dining with Treasurer Scott Morrison, the then Immigration Minister, at the time.

 “Rather than endeavoring to be photographed (at functions) as former Liberal candidates, some grass root work may come in handy while they wait”, adds Mr Jaswal who understands the inner workings of how the Liberal party works in modern Australia.

In 2016 election, other than veteran Alex Bhathal who is touted to cause an upset in Batman, there is not a candidate with any real prospect in Victoria. The only other real hope for the Indian diaspora is Chris Gambian in Banks (Sydney) whose parents migrated from South India in mid 1970s.

(Dinesh Malhotra is the founding editor of Bharat Times)

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