Britain's Labour Party's U-turn over Kashmir issue reveals growing clout of Indian diaspora that supports Narendra Modi's policies

FP Staff

Britain's Opposition Labour Party recently took a U-turn on its stand over the Kashmir issue stressing that the Kashmir is a "bilateral matter" for India and Pakistan and that the party is opposed to external interference over the issue, as had been implied by some of the wording of a controversial emergency motion passed by the party at its conference in September.

The Chair of the Labour Party, Ian Lavery, issued a letter on Monday acknowledging the "sensitivities" that exist over the situation in Kashmir while admitting that Jeremy Corbyn's September resolution had caused offence in some sections of the Indian diaspora, and in India.

"We recognise that the language used in the emergency motion has caused offence in some sections of the Indian diaspora, and in India itself. We are adamant that the deeply felt and genuinely held differences on the issue of Kashmir must not be allowed to divide communities against each other here in the UK," Lavery said in the letter, adding, "The Labour Party will not adopt any anti-India or anti-Pakistan position over Kashmir."

He further said: "Kashmir is a bilateral matter for India and Pakistan to resolve together by means of peaceful solution which protects the human rights of the Kashmiri people and respects their right to have a say in their own future...Labour is opposed to external interference in the political affairs of any other country. As an international party, our concern is to ensure respect for the human rights of all people in the world, regardless of where they live."

The letter is likely to help India in influencing the narrative over Jammu and Kashmir after it abrogated Article 370 of the Constitution revoking the state's special status.

The credit for the Labour U-turn goes entirely to the 18 lakh Indian diaspora living in the UK.

Feeling alienated by the motion, some members of the Indian diaspora, estimated to represent over 10 lakh votes in a UK election, had started campaigns on WhatsApp and Twitter, urging Indian-origin UK citizens to vote Conservative in the December election.

Some of the anti-Labour messages doing the rounds on WhatsApp and Twitter include attacks on the party as being "anti-Hindu" for not condemning protests organised by pro-Pakistani groups in London.

After the Labour Party passed the resolution in September, Respect British Indians, an umbrella group claiming to represent over 100 British Indian outfits had campaigned against the UK Opposition party to withdraw the resolution.

It had even drafted a "pledge" for every British politician contesting the December election to commit to revoking the "partisan and ill-informed" motion passed by the party at its conference in September.

Ethnic minors in the UK tend to vote for the Labour Party, however, the electoral gains that this U-turn may bring is debated, considering British Hindus have increasingly been supporting the Conservative Party €" the percentage of Hindu votes in favour of Conservative Party increased to 40 percent in 2017 as compared to 30 percent in 2010 general election €" there is no doubt that the Labour Party has given in to the pressure. This also points to the rising clout of the Indian diaspora in the UK.

The chairman of Hindu Council UK Umesh Chander Sharma had recently told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that most Hindus were "very upset and very angry" about Labour's position and the charity, which is meant to be politically impartial, was "against" it. He said his organisation had to "defend the Hindu cause".

According to an article published in Times of India, the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) has been actively campaigning for the Tories (Conservative Party). In fact, OFBJP UK president Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat has openly said that his group has "identified 48 Labour-Conservative marginal seats which the British Indian vote could swing and was even trying to oust six Indian-origin Labour MPs".

"We are doing this for three reasons. Firstly, some Labour MPs joined the violent protests outside India House on 15 August and 3 September. Secondly, no Labour MPs spoke in favour of India in the House of Commons on Kashmir, and thirdly because of the Labour motion on Kashmir passed at their party conference. Kashmir is an internal matter of India. Why is the Labour party discussing the Indian state? We will only support MPs who support us," Shekhawat had told the newspaper.

The UK, however, is not the only country where the Indian diaspora has stood behind the BJP-led Narendra Modi government and its policies.

Not just the UK, the Modi-led BJP has found support for its policies in the US as well. And it has grown in the last five years. While about 22,000 supporters had gathered in New York's Madison Square Garden to celebrate Modi's victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the number jumped to about 50,000 during the Howdy Modi event in Houston, held after his re-election in the 2019 general elections in India.

According to an article in Foreign Policy, there are about 40 lakh Indian Americans in the US, and are among the wealthiest and most educated ethnic group in America with a median income almost double that of an average American household".

"The community pumped well over $10 million into US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign," the article said while noting that the community helped catapult a record number of Indian Americans into Congress and funded the campaigns of politicians such as Tulsi Gabbard, who has no Indian ancestry but is a practising Hindu.

And while people of Indian origin skew Democratic €" 77 percent of the community voted for Clinton in the 2016 race €" a large number of them are supporters of right-wing politics in India, the article points out.

That, however, may change this time. As seen during the Houston event, when Modi publicly offered support to Donald Trump €" who had attended the event as the India prime minister's special guest €" for a second stint at the White House, the crowd cheered.


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