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Keith Vaz becomes longest serving British MP of Asian origin

By Venkata Vemuri, IANS,

Leicester : Nigel Keith Anthony Standish Vaz has completed 21 years as member of British parliament, the longest tenure by an Asian.

The India-born Labour MP from Leicester East celebrated the landmark Friday by cutting a cake in front of his constituents at a community centre popular with the Asian community.

“I will continue to raise issues of the ethnic minorities, particularly the Asian community, along with discharging my general duties,” Vaz told IANS.

He lost his first election in 1983, but when he was elected to parliament in 1987, Vaz became the first Asian MP since Shapurji Saklatvala lost his seat in 1929. Dadabhai Naoroji was the first Indian ever to be elected to the British parliament in 1892.

Since his election, Vaz has been a prominent member of the Asian community and its voice in parliament. He is also the first Asian to have ever been appointed a minister in the House of Commons.

In 1999 he became minister for Europe in the foreign office under Tony Blair. Prior to that, in 1919, Satyendra Prasanno Sinha, the First Baron Sinha of Raipur, was undersecretary for India in the British government.

A strong pro-European, anti-racist, anti-violent computer games and a strong backbencher, Vaz has also had his share of controversies. His name came up prominently when the powerful Hinduja brothers managed to secure British passports. In 1989 he campaigned against Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” amid rumours that he was in touch with the author in private.

In 2002, he was suspended from parliament for a month for contempt. More recently, eyebrows were raised after he changed his mind at the last minute and supported the stricter anti-terrorism legislation of the Gordon Brown administration.

Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine once described him as “the most incredible networker I have ever met”.

Vaz was born in 1956 in Aden, where his father, of Goan descent, was the correspondent of The Times of India. His family moved to Britain in 1965. He studied law and practised for several years before entering politics. His mother and sister too have been in public life.

Vaz’s constituency of Leicester continues to be the hub of the Asian diaspora in Britain in terms of population. In 1991, the population of Indian origin formed the largest single ethnic community group in the city, with 22.3 percent of the total population. By 2001, this figure had grown to 25.7 percent.

The large population of Indian origin has resulted in Leicester having significantly high proportions of residents following Hinduism, Sikhism or Islam. The national ranking placed Leicester as third, 10th and 17th respectively for these three religions.