Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and wife Akshata Murty at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden. Photo courtesy: Instagram/rishisunakmp

Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Rishi Sunak and Labour Party leader Keir Starmer have both made temple visits over the past few days, ahead of the July 4 general election.

Sunak, 44, a practising Hindu, went to the famed BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, northwest London, with his wife Akshata Murty on Sunday. Emphasising on his roots, he posted on Instagram: “My faith guides me every day in my approach to public service. It taught me the importance of everyone doing their duty and gave me a true commitment to service.”

Labour Party leader Keir Starmer at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Kingsbury
UK Labour Party leader Keir Starmer at the Swaminarayan Mandir in Kingsbury. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Shree Swaminarayan Mandir – Kingsbury

Starmer, 61, visited Shree Swaminarayan Mandir Kingsbury, in southern England, on Friday. Giving a speech during the visit, he warned against Hinduphobia, saying that there was “absolutely no place” for it in the UK, and also spoke of wanting to build a “strategic partnership with India”.

Akshata Murty at the Neasden temple
Akshata Murty at the Neasden temple. Photo courtesy: Instagram/rishisunakmp

Both the incumbent prime minister and the man who is fighting for that job have made clear attempts to woo British Hindu voters.

Their move appears to follow a ‘Hindu Manifesto’ being launched by an umbrella group of British Hindu organisations for the first time ahead of a British general election.

The manifesto has called upon elected representatives to take proactive steps to protect Hindu places of worship and tackle anti-Hindu hate.

“This mandir stands as a great statement of the contributions that this community makes to Britain,” said Sunak, in his speech at the iconic Neasden Temple, where he offered prayers and sought blessings from the elderly in the gathering.

“Education, hard work, family, those are my values. Those are your values. Those are Conservative values,” he declared in his election pitch.

Starmer was welcomed to the tunes of an Indian-Scottish pipe band at the Kingsbury Temple, where he began his speech with “Jai Swaminarayan”, just as Sunak did.

“If we’re elected next week, we will strive to govern in the spirit of sewa to serve you and a world in need,” said the Labour leader, reiterating a previous message that there was “absolutely no place for Hinduphobia in Britain”.

Starmer places a garland at the Kingsbury temple
Starmer places a garland at the Kingsbury temple. Photo courtesy: Facebook/Shree Swaminarayan Mandir – Kingsbury

According to the 2021 census, around 1 million people living in the United Kingdom identify as Hindus, making this electorate quite a sizeable chunk in the July 4 general election.

“The ‘Hindu Manifesto’ is a call to action for all parliamentary candidates and political parties to engage with and support the Hindu community in their constituencies,” said the Hindus for Democracy group behind the initiative.

“It highlights the contributions of Hindus to the UK’s social, cultural and economic fabric and seeks to build a future where these contributions are recognised, valued, protected and promoted for a better future for all,” the group said.

While the incumbent Sunak-led Tories have been trailing in all pre-election surveys, how the Indian diaspora votes line up this time, with Britain’s first Indian-heritage prime minister in the race, remains to be seen.

Rishi Sunak meets the Indian diaspora at the Neasden temple
Rishi Sunak meets the Indian diaspora at the Neasden temple. Photo courtesy: Instagram/rishisunakmp

“For the Conservative Party, obviously, they have Rishi Sunak — a British Indian leader — for the first time. It’s an unknown factor how much it will matter to British Indian voters that the leader of the party is from their background,” noted Sunder Katwala, Director of the British Future think tank.

With just days to go before polling day on Thursday, both leaders are expected to undertake a so-called campaign blitz — zig-zagging across different parts of the United Kingdom, including other places of worship, to clinch any remaining undecided votes.