The Queen invites Asians to the party

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Indy Politics
The Government yesterday announced that the Queen is to open Buckingham Palace Garden parties to more members of the British Asian community as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of independence for India and Pakistan.

Lord Cranborne, the Leader of the House of Lords, who is in charge of the celebrations, announced that the year of events will start with a government banquet in Whitehall next Monday, and a fund will be started for a war memorial.

Lord Cranborne said the planned programme was a national, not a party political matter, and that Labour's National Heritage spokesman, Dr Jack Cunningham, had been fully briefed about the plans and had supported them.

But the Government's early start for the independence celebrations, which is officially marked in August, was seen at Westminster as part of the campaign to woo influential Asian voters in the run-up to the general election, highlighted yesterday in The Independent.

The Confederation of Indian Organisations UK, representing hundreds of thousands of Asians, is targeting eight marginal seats, including six Tory constituencies: Batley and Spen (Elizabeth Peacock), Brentford and Isleworth (Nirj Deva) Edmonton (Ian Twinn), Hayes and Harlington (Terry Dicks), with the new seats Halesowen and Rowley Regis, and Oldham East and Saddleworth.

The group is planning to target Asian and Afro-Caribbean voters in each of the constituencies with pamphlets setting out pledges by each of the three main parties on immigration policy. They estimate that swings of only a few hundred voters in each of the seats could have an impact on the result.

Hayes and Harlington, the seat held by Mr Dicks, an outspoken right- wing Tory MP, is second on Labour's hit list of winnable marginals. It is estimated that there is a majority of only 44 votes and a total 5,500 ethnic minority voters.

Lord Cranborne spoke of the contribution to Britain made by the Asian community, who own 65 per cent of all independent shops in this country. He said the Queen would be giving "particular prominent to British Asians at this year's garden parties".

To reinforce that message, he said, the Prince of Wales was holding a reception at St James's Palace to mark the anniversary. The Queen will be visiting India and Pakistan later in the year and the Royal Yacht Britannia will also pay a courtesy call.

Lord Cranborne, who is also the Lord Privy Seal, said: "I hope we can make this a very real contribution to harmony in this country, and a celebration which I think is well worth undertaking."

The announcement of the core programme of events planned in Britain follows a visit by the Prime Minister in January to India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

An appeal fund is to be launched later this year - backed by the former Speaker of the Commons, Lord Weatherill, and Viscount Slim, who both served in the Indian Army - to raise money for a memorial in London to soldiers from the sub-continent who died in both world wars.

During the Second World War the Indian Army was composed entirely of volunteers. The wartime Indian Army was the largest volunteer force ever assembled, and its men won 31 Victoria Crosses and 4,800 awards for gallantry.