Now the dust has settled on Trudeau's contentious visit to India, politicians must understand that reaching out to minorities is about more than just costumes—or even winning votesby Binita Mehta-Parmar / March 7, 2018 / Leave a comment
Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India stirred up controversy around the Canadian Prime Minister and his family wearing Indian attire. Critics said Trudeau’s clothing was a “bit much,” and accused him of “playing dress-up.” But his visit to my motherland made me reflect on exactly how difficult it is for any politician to engage positively with a community which is not their own.
In my conversations with Canadian Indian family friends, the images of Trudeau and his family have had some resonance. Najma Lalji, 71, from Toronto saw it as a “good, respectful gesture” and was pleased that the family had made an attempt to “embrace Indian traditions.”
Nikhel Solanki is 28 and from Mississauga. He said, “at least he was willing to put him and his family out there and try—which speaks volumes.” Priya Shah, 28 from Richmond, was pleased to see it and called the photos “cute.”
Yet others were not so happy. Iman Virji, who is 25 from Vancouver, was offended by what she saw as cultural appropriation, which she felt made “a joke” of Indian culture while also highlighting that non-Indians see the country as “one big Bollywood movie.” An auntie in her fifties from Barrie put it more strongly: “He should have worn a suit and stopped his show-and-tell charade for votes.”
The incident was a stark reminder that politicians must take their ethnic minority voters seriously but be careful not patronise them. It is all too easy to make missteps that can offend or cause ridicule, like Jeremy Corbyn’s tweet saying “only Labour can be trusted to unlock the talent of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people.”
In this increasingly anti-establishment world, politicians are understandably doing everything possible to gain support. Indeed, elections are all about savvy strategising to maximise limited resources.
The battle for BME votes matters: according to British Future, it was the ethnic minority vote gap which cost Theresa May her majority in last year’s General Election. Policy Exchange reports the UK ethnic minority population is expected to double to 25-30 per cent by 2050.
Furthermore, BME voters are moving to marginal constituencies: at the next General Election, target seats for both of the main parties are predicted to have ethnic minority populations of over…