To read British pulse, watch Calcutta boy's contest

East Hampshire, where Calcutta boy Rohit K. Dasgupta is the Labour candidate, could provide an indication which way tomorrow's general election will be decided.

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 8.06.17
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Rohit K Dasgupta

London, June 7: East Hampshire, where Calcutta boy Rohit K. Dasgupta is the Labour candidate, could provide an indication which way tomorrow's general election will be decided.

Dasgupta is not expected to win, of course, because he is contesting in the 20th-safest Tory seat in the country - the incumbent Damian Hind won in 2015 with a majority of 25,147, which in British terms constitutes a mountain.

Still, if Dasgupta can improve on the 5,220 votes the Labour candidate got last time in a "no-hoper" seat, it will be a clear signal that things are going his party's way.

Even Ukip got 6,187 votes in 2015 but the far-Right party has not put up a candidate this time.

If Dasgupta performs really badly, though, that would be a sign that the national swing is towards the Tories, led by Prime Minister Theresa May.

Whatever happens tomorrow, Dasgupta, a 29-year-old lecturer who has been in Britain for eight years and teaches "development, gender and digital culture" at Loughborough University, has learnt a lot about campaigning and the way British politics works.

"He's a very enterprising young man," said his friend, Sangeeta Datta, the cinema academic and filmmaker.

An alumnus of St James' School and Jadavpur University, Dasgupta had moved to the UK for his postgraduation and PhD.

"Penultimate door-knocking session in Alton today," Dasgupta tweeted yesterday. "Good response from residents. Some great Labour activists. Vote Labour this Thursday."

On the last day of campaigning, Dasgupta, in common with every other candidate in 650 constituencies throughout the UK, was putting in a last-minute push.

"It's more important that Labour does well across the country," he said. Dasgupta spoke to The Telegraph from a train taking him from Loughborough to London where he was intending to do some door-to-door campaigning for his mentor and great supporter, Lyn Brown, the sitting Labour member for West Ham.

There was quite a bit of drama in the Labour party today when its shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, the most senior black woman in British politics, stood down on grounds of "ill health" and was replaced by Brown.

Abbott might well be unwell but she has participated repeatedly in what the Tory media gleefully describes as "car crash" interviews.

"I am returning from a workshop in Loughborough and will then be campaigning for Lyn in West Ham, following which I will be in East Hampshire to do the last bit of door-to-door knocking tomorrow," Dasgupta told this newspaper.

"I hope I come second," added Dasgupta, who has now acquired a taste for the hustings and intends to stand in local government elections in 2018.

So how does what he has learnt about politics compare to, say, the way Mamata Banerjee runs things back in Bengal?

"Very different," he responded.

How different?

"Here they say, 'We want to know about your policies'," he said.

Tweeting is now part of the political game and Dasgupta recently put out one, drawing attention to the endorsement that Labour has received from Cambridge astro-physicist Stephen Hawking.

"Listen to Stephen Hawking and vote Labour on Thursday," said Dasgupta's tweet. "It is the only decent thing to do."

Hawking had said, after a meeting with Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner: "I'm voting Labour because another five years of Conservative government would be a disaster for the NHS, the police and other public services."

Hawking had also said: "I regard (Labour leader Jeremy) Corbyn as a disaster. His heart is in the right place and many of his policies are sound, but he has allowed himself to be portrayed as a Left-wing extremist."

So what is the best result from India's point of view?

Narendra Modi's government won't be too unhappy if May returns as Prime Minister on the principle that it is easier to sup with the devil you know.

In Labour's manifesto, Corbyn announced his intention of appointing an inquiry into the military assistance given by Margaret Thatcher to Indira Gandhi at the time of Operation Blue Star in 1984 (the army operation to remove militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar).

Corbyn, who is under pressure from his Pakistani-origin MPs, also wants to extend his help in resolving the Kashmir dispute. This will not win him any friends in South Block - or among Indian voters in the UK.

The Indian high commission has done a rough count and reckons there are some 45 candidates of Indian origin standing this time.

They include some well known faces.

For the Tories, they include Alok Sharma (Reading West); Priti Patel (Whitham); Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West); Rishi Sunak (Richmond, Yorkshire); and Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire).

For Labour, they are: Keith Vaz (Leicester East); Valerie Vaz (Walsall South); Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall); and Seema Malhotra (Feltham and Heston).

After three terrorist attacks since March --- the latest on London Bridge last Saturday --- security has become the main issue in the closing stages of the campaign. May has threatened to tear up human rights legislation and deport extremists.

But if truth be told, how to deal with home-grown terrorists, born and brought up in Britain, seems at the moment to be a problem without a solution. Election or no election.