The Indian diaspora and business communities in the UK are familiar with Rajesh Agrawal, the former Deputy Mayor of Business in London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s team. He transformed London into a leading investment hub for India, despite the Brexit chaos and the pandemic which severely impacted the City.
Born in India, former tech-entrepreneur Rajesh is now standing for elections as the Labour party’s candidate for Leicester East. The controversial Leicester East constituency was represented by former Labour MP Keith Vaz’s for over 32 years from 1987 to 2019.
In an exclusive interview with Asian Voice, one of his firsts with the UK press as the Labour party’s parliamentary candidate for Leicester East, Rajesh talked about why politics was never on his agenda.
“When I came to this country, 22 years ago, I had very little money, but just like most immigrants, my pockets were filled with dreams,” said Rajesh. “And my eyes were always set towards the commercial world. I wanted to start my own business. And I knew that with hard work and grit I could do well. But I never imagined that I would end up being the Deputy Mayor of one of the greatest cities on earth, not once, but twice, for nearly eight years. And I'm very proud of all the things that I've achieved as the Deputy Mayor of London - whether it's creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, to bringing and attracting over billions of pounds in international investment, to improving the working conditions of Londoners. And all of this was achieved against the backdrop of Brexit, pandemic, and the current cost of living crisis.”
Putting Leicester East on the map
Rajesh is fully aware of the challenges of representing Leicester East – an ethnically diverse city that recently was rocked by communal riots. Convinced about the city’s potential, he told this newsweekly, “Leicester is full of potential, and its diversity is one of its greatest assets. It's already a big hub for the textile industry. We need to harness the energy that exists in Leicester and put the city on the world map.
“Leicester has a huge connection with India, because nearly more than 50% of the Leicester's East population has people of Indian-origin and India is the fastest growing major economy in the world. Surely there could be is vast potential to make Leicester an international trading hub and it could eventually be the focal point of UK India trade relationship.”
Rajesh has 20 years of experience working with Britain’s business communities and is a first-generation immigrant from India, and much of proud of his roots. According to a story by BBC, Leicester became one of the first cities in the UK where people identifying as white were no longer the majority.
The 2011 UK census recorded that two-thirds of its population in Leicester East was non-white and nearly half, or 48.5% of the people here, described themselves as Asians. And many of them had arrived in the early 70s from Uganda, after Idi Amin’s expulsion. In the 2021 Census, 17.9% of the whole of Leicester’s population identified as Hindus and 23.5% as Muslims, 4.5% as Sikhs, and 24.7% as Christians.
“Millions of people in the UK who come from all over the world have made this country their home,” said Rajesh. “Similarly, Leicester is also a city that is open to people from around the world. It's not about who got here first. My own effort will be to bring all the communities together - doesn't matter whether you've lived in Leicester for five years, or 50. Leicester belongs to everybody who lives in Leicester.”
A new generation Labour Party representative
Elaborating on his own identity as a new generation Labour Party representative of a multicultural and multiethnic Britain, Rajesh added, “I'm very proud to be the first Hindu Deputy Mayor of London, who has worked alongside the first Muslim Mayor of London. I went to a Catholic school; in London I live in a neighbourhood with a large Jewish community. So, I'm all about working with the communities.
“Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer is under a new management. There is a huge change in its direction. I know many people in the community believe that the Labour Party took a wrong turn, but I want to reassure them, that Labour is under new management. We’ll reach out to all different communities, including the Hindu community and work with them.”
He further added, “Labour Party will continue to fight for every single vote there is, and we've got a very big job to do in that space. We know that in 2019 Labour managed to win Leicester East but with a far reduced majority. So, we are not taking any vote for granted. We'll be fighting for every single vote. And I know everybody who's part of the Labour Party will work alongside me in winning the Leicester East seat.”
Communities should not feel that they've not been heard
Speaking about his manifesto, London’s former Deputy Mayor for Business added with enthusiasm, “I'm already meeting community leaders, and will continue to do that in the coming weeks and months. There is a lot of enthusiasm, I'm getting a fantastic response from all the community leaders and faith groups across Leicester East. What they are looking for in a candidate is somebody who will put Leicester on the map, somebody who is experienced and competent and somebody who holds respect at the highest levels, and I believe I fit the bill. And you know just like all the successes that I achieved for London, I am determined to achieve that in Leicester East, and I've got a lot of support so far from the community.
He said, “Leicester East has big businesses and a large number of micro and small businesses which are the backbone of the economy. So, I'll be working with them very closely and trying to help them grow and understand the challenges they face.
“Moreover, it's important to bring various communities together and celebrate diversity, which is one of the biggest strengths of Leicester. Communities should not feel that they've not been heard. I would like to assure them that there is always scope for dialogue and community cohesion.
“I also want to focus on other key areas of development of Leicester East. More than 50% of children in Leicester East are growing up in poverty. As somebody who grew up in poverty himself, I can relate to that. And I tell you, it's a very bad place to be. It's important that we focus on infrastructure development so that people can get the public services they rightly deserve, right from GP appointments to hospital, to schools, to good quality education. I want to create jobs so that people don't have to look beyond Leicester.”