Paris, May 5: As France prepares to vote Sunday to elect a new president, the Indian-origin community also seems to be split between the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and his challenger and the current favourite, Francois Hollande of the Socialist Party.
Mainland France has about 250,000 people of Indian origin, with a dominant Tamil community hailing from Puducherry, a former French colony and a fair bit of Punjabis and Gujaratis.
Among the overseas territories of France, Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean has over 250,000 people of Indian origin, descendants of farm labourers who migrated nearly 150 years ago.
The Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique have about 60,000 people of Indian origin with a similar background.
The support for Sarkozy and Hollande varies by the territories or regions where the voters of Indian origin are.
In the overseas territories, the support for Hollande is quite high, mainly due to the economic hardships in the islands, where the average incomes are far lower than in mainland France.
However, as the Indian community is by and large better off in the overseas territories, their votes seem set to go to Sarkozy.
“Most of us here will vote for Sarkozy as he is the only one who can help put France back on track. In his first term, he did manage to put several key reforms, which many seem to have forgotten. He has reformed the retirement age, the education system and brought in minimum service guarantees in the transport sector, which has always been plagued by long and crippling strikes,” said Michel Narayaninsamy, president of Gopio Guadeloupe.
“Many people did not like his style and his personality as he is brutally frank and has his own methods of doing things. But this resentment against Sarkozy is not so much for his actions as his style,” he said.
This support contrasts sharply with the views of Amiriddine Farouk, an active member of the Socialist Party in the Parisian suburb of La Courneuve, which has a fair bit of Indian community.
Farouk has been campaigning actively for Hollande and also mounted a Facebook page to muster support amongst the Indians.
Farouk has criticised Sarkozy for his anti-immigration policies, and the fact that in order to corner the 18 percent voters who supported the far right candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round, Sarkozy launched a tirade against migrants.
The Sikhs in France, numbering about 20,000, also seem to be inclined to vote for Hollande, even though the support is not as vocal or strong.
As most of them live in Parisian suburbs like Drancy, Bobigny and Bourget, all ruled by the socialists or other left parties, the Sikh community has also been inclined to vote for the left in the elections.
The Sikhs are also upset about the ban on public display of religious symbols in public schools, which saw their children being forced to leave the public school or replace the turban with a plain handkerchief.
“This remains a very sore point for the Sikhs and we are likely to vote against Sarkozy. Everytime, the Indian government asked them to relax the rules, they just kept on saying that it had been resolved, even if nothing was really resolved, even if the socialist party or other left wingers did not help us overcome this ban,” said Gurdial Singh, a prominent Sikh from Paris who has been vocal about his opposition to the controversial ban.
The well-to-do and the white-collar Indians in France do seem to be leaning towards Sarkozy as they fear that Hollande will undo the few reforms that Sarkozy managed to push through over strong protests from the opposition.
“He has been the motor of actions to defend against the debt crisis and the eurozone crisis. Unfortunately, the crisis increased the unemployment and that impacted support for Sarkozy,” said Narayaninsamy, adding that the race was tight and nothing was over till the last votes are cast Sunday.
(Ranvir Nayar can be contacted at email@example.com)