A Sikh making inroads in British politics

Gurinder Singh Josan breaks into Labour Party's national executive committee, a new milestone for Sikhs

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Gurinder Singh Josan
By Asia Samachar Team | BRITAIN |

The Josan family has deep links to Smethwick. Grandfather settled in the West Midlands town in the 1950s. His son took an active interest in the local affairs. And now the grandson is continuing the tradition. He has upped the ante by going into  national British politics.

Gurinder Singh Josan, a Labour member since he was 16 years old, was elected to a vacant position to the political party’s national executive committee (NEC) in an election that closed on Saturday (4 April).

This is a major breakthrough for the Sikh presence in British party. For the first time, a Sikh has been elected to its the influential body.

“My grandfather helped build the first Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Smethwick in 1961. My family were involved in sewa (selfless service) from the outset,” Gurinder tells Asia Samachar.

“Whilst having a Sikh person on the Labour NEC hasn’t been an aim in itself, achieving this is a milestone and a welcome step because it shows the Labour Party is open to all and reflects the communities of the UK.”

In the same election, Labour elected Sir Keir Starmer as its new chief.

He has appointed Preet Kaur Gill, the first British Sikh female MP, as the Shadow International Development Secretary.

Two other Punjabis elected to major roles were Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi as the shadow railway minister and Seema Malhotra as the shadow employment minister.

Preet and Tan were first election to the parliament in the 2017 snap elections. They both won again the December 2019 general elections which was Conservative Party storming to a decisive victory under Boris Johnson.

Here are excerpt from the interview with Gurinder.

Gurinder Singh Josan and Labour supporters

What are your immediate plans now that you’re part of the Labour NEC?

The Labour Party has just lost our fourth General Election and has been hopelessly divided along factional lines.  There is a big job of rebuilding to do to ensure the party is ready to challenge for power at the next General Election.

I’ve been elected as a representative of ordinary members and will be doing my best to ensure the concerns, aspirations and ideas of ordinary Labour Party members and activists are always given full consideration as part of the rebuilding.

What does it mean for Sikhs and other minorities?

Progress in improving diversity at every level in every field is important for all minorities to maintain their sense of belonging and ownership of institutions and within society generally.  Whilst having a Sikh person on the Labour NEC hasn’t been an aim in itself, achieving this is a milestone and a welcome step because it shows the Labour Party is open to all and reflects the communities of the UK.

Also, the Sikh community, like many other minority communities, has been established in the UK for many decades and several generations now.  Sikhs and other minorities have traditionally largely supported the Labour Party.  However, we are seeing in recent elections that allegiance amongst some communities, Sikhs and Hindus in particular, is shifting.  It’s important the Labour Party understands and responds to these changes and having somebody who understands the communities on the NEC is an advantage.

L-R: Gurinder Singh Josan, Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi and Jagtar Singh Gill of Sikh Assembly

There are not many Asians in the newly unveiled Labour shadow cabinet. For someone who’s championing diversity, are you disappointed? Should something be done about it?

There are 24 members of the Shadow Cabinet. In addition, there are to be many more junior shadow ministerial roles appointed in the coming days.

Among them is Preet Kaur Gill, the first Sikh to be appointed and another milestone for the community. There are four others who have Indian or Pakistani heritage that I’m aware of.  So, five out of 24 (approx. 20%) is not a bad representation for a community that will be less than 20% in the UK. Overall, including all BAME appointees this is a very diverse Shadow Cabinet and Keir Starmer should be congratulated.

When considered along with the increase in recent elections in the number of BAME MP’s elected and the diversity currently in the UK Government, these are all welcome steps for minority communities.

What made you join the Labour Party at 16?

As long as I can remember my family has always been actively involved in the Labour Party.  My late father was an active member of his trade union and became an elected councillor in Sandwell wand was Cabinet Member for Housing when he passed away in 1999.

Some of my earliest memories as a young child are going out with my late father while he was leafletting or attending meetings.  I suppose it was inevitable I would join the Labour Party at the earliest opportunity!

Who inspired you in those days (any particular leader, from Labour or elsewhere)?

At the time I joined, the Labour Party was involved in a similar factional struggle over the direction of the party.  The leader at the time, Neil Kinnock, inspired me because of his own personal political journey that led him to challenge more dogmatic elements in the party and to advocate change to enable the party to focus on winning elections.  Without winning elections, we can’t achieve the things we set out to do so.

Do tell us about your family background.

My late paternal grandfather, Bhan Singh, and my late father, Swaran Singh Josan, came to the UK in the 1950’s and settled in Smethwick in the West Midlands where we still live today. My father was 10 years old at the time and so most of his education was in the UK.  My grandfather worked in the foundries in the West Midlands doing manual labour.  After completing his education, my father joined what was then called the Post Office and later became British Telecom as a telecommunications engineer where he worked for 27 years.

My maternal grandfather, Niranjan Singh Khinda, also come to the UK in the 1950’s. He settled in Bedford where he worked as a labourer the brickworks. He was one of the founding trustees of Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Bedford.

My mother, Bhajan Kaur Josan, and father married in 1970.  I was born in 1972.

My late father and my late uncle established a retail business in 1975 which my mother worked in too. My brothers and I now run the business, a plumbers merchants.

I married in 1996 my wife, Harvinder Kaur Josan, who is an accountant. We have two children – a son and a daughter both at university.

How did break into politics?

My father arrived in the UK aged 10 and most of his education was here. He was, therefore, proficient in English as well as Punjabi and in those days there weren’t many people. The early community settlers always had departments and correspondence to be dealt with and my father assisted a lot of people on a regular basis. At work he got very involved in the trade union and this led him to join the Labour Party.

The Josans: L-R: Daughter Gurkirta Kaur Josan, Gurinder, mother Bhajan Kaur Josan, wife Harvinder Kaur Josan and son Pavandeep Singh Josan

What are the Sikh principle, if any, that inspire you?

I was bought up in a devout Sikh household.  I am inspired by the importance given to equality of all, by the principles of ‘naam japna’, ‘wand ke shakna’ and ‘kirat karni’ and by the importance given to miri and piri aspects in life.

My grandfather helped build the first Gurdwara, Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Smethwick in 1961. My family were involved in sewa (selfless service) from the outset.  My uncle served as a committee member several times including as Treasurer and I served as a Trustee for a short time.

You founded Sikhs for Labour. Why?

We founded Sikhs for Labour to be a two-way interface between the community and the Labour Party.  It is a vehicle through which the Labour Party can engage with the community and through which the community can engage with the Labour Party on issues such as representation and policy issues.

Are Sikhs open to supporting Labour?

I believe they are. The Labour Party has been the home for Sikhs in the UK traditionally. This is partly due to the proactive stance historically taken by the Labour Party on equality issues particularly regarding the Dastar and the Kakaars.

Whilst these issues are still of relevance to Sikhs, the Labour Party position on other policy areas remain attractive to Sikhs particularly in areas such as welfare and protecting the less well off.

 

RELATED STORY:

First ever Sikh elected to Labour’s national executive committee (Asia Samachar, 7 April 2020)

EU losses first and only Sikh lawmaker (Asia Samachar, 1 Feb 2020)

History making Sikh MPs back in British Parliament (Asia Samachar, 13 Dec 2019)

 

ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs / Punjabis in Southeast Asia and beyond. Facebook | WhatsApp +6017-335-1399 | Email: editor@asiasamachar.com | Twitter | Instagram | Obituary announcements, click here |

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