Sikh Tory would-be MP stands out from NI herd

  • Amandeep Singh Bhogal, 31, believes he is 1st Sikh to contest election in N.Ireland
  • He is standing in the tightly contested Upper Bann seat
  • Bhogal says Connaught Rangers soldiers stationed in his town in India mutinied in 1920

This is the bearded and beturbaned Tory candidate from London who is attempting to become the Member of Parliament for Upper Bann.

Amandeep Singh Bhogal, a 31-year-old Punjabi-born former diplomatic administrator and foundry worker, is the first Sikh to ever contest a Parliamentary election in Northern Ireland.

Conservative candidate Amandeep Singh Bhogal down on the farm in the Upper Bann constituency

Conservative candidate Amandeep Singh Bhogal down on the farm in the Upper Bann constituency

During a visit to the News Letter’s Belfast office this week, Mr Bhogal – who has campaigned alongside London Mayor Boris Johnson – expressed near-unrestrained optimism about his campaign, although he added: “Of course, I’m not going to be saying that I’ve got it in the bag.”

The Tories have polled notoriously badly over recent decades in the Province. The last time a Conservative member contested Upper Bann was the 2007 Assembly election in which David Fry got 248 votes.

If Mr Bhogal secures even several hundred votes, that could be important in a seat which is expected to be closely contested between the DUP’s David Simpson and the UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson – and the votes he takes are more likely to come from those who may otherwise back Mrs Dobson.

The DUP has claimed that there is an outside chance of Sinn Fein’s Catherine Seeley taking the seat, something the UUP has claimed shows DUP concern that Mr Simpson’s vote is likely to fall.

There were sectarian troubles in the Punjab but the region managed to beat that insurgency and improve the economy

Amandeep Singh Bhogal

It’s less than three weeks since Mr Bhogal was selected for Upper Bann – a selection made after he demonstrated remarkable tenacity, having unsuccessfully applied to 45 other Conservative associations. Upper Bann was only the second Conservative association to even interview him.

When asked why he came to Ulster, Mr Bhogal said that there was a link to Ireland from his past – soldiers from the Connaught Rangers who were stationed in his town in India mutinied in 1920 and established the first ‘Irish government in exile’.

He said that, as in Northern Ireland, there had been sectarian troubles in the Punjab but the region managed to “beat that insurgency” and improve the economy.

Mr Bhogal said that he had “trawled through every single general election record since 1885 and I am confident that I am the first ever Sikh Parliamentary candidate for any part of Northern Ireland”.

Mr Bhogal visited the News Letter over Easter. With Deputy Editor Ben Lowry, above, and a copy of the earliest surviving edition of the world's oldest English language daily newspaper

Mr Bhogal visited the News Letter over Easter. With Deputy Editor Ben Lowry, above, and a copy of the earliest surviving edition of the world's oldest English language daily newspaper

He said that his faith taught him to respect everyone, irrespective of their religion, and that he could be a “non-partisan voice of all people in Upper Bann”.

The London man, who is campaigning on bringing more jobs to the area, said that he was now spending “the large majority of my time here in Upper Bann” and added: “If, God willing, I was to win it, I would be moving on the night of the count itself. Of course I would.”

Mr Bhogal grew up on a council estate in south east London and went to a grammar school. Straight from school, he joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a junior admin officer in the diplomatic service. From there, he joined the family’s car parts business, joining as an apprentice moulder, qualifying as a foundry engineer.

But he added: “The biggest qualification I feel I have is being the father of two wonderful children.”