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Nation special report

LONDON: Britain’s main opposition the Labour Party is attempting to defuse a row that has seen British Hindus urged not to vote for them at the general election. There has been much anger from Hindu communities over Labour passing a motion criticising India’s actions in Kashmir at its annual conference. It has led to claims the party is “anti-Indian” and “anti-Hindu”, the BBC has commented over the controversy which will definitely affect the forthcoming election process.

Labour has now distanced itself from the conference motion after criticism from a major Hindu charity. For decades, Kashmir has been a point of contention between India and Pakistan – both believe it should be part of their country.

On 5th August this year, India withdrew the special status of Jammu and Kashmir that had enabled this region to make its own laws and have its own flag. Following this, Labour members passed a motion at the party’s conference in September saying there was a humanitarian crisis in the disputed territory and that the people of Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination.

This provoked much anger from Indians – most of whom are of Hindu faith – in the UK and abroad. Umesh Chander Sharma, chairman of Hindu Council UK, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme 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” and added that some people who usually vote Labour will be voting for the Conservatives because of the issue.

“They are, they are (voting Tory), they are very clear, they are very evident, there is no ifs or buts, they are very openly saying that,” he told the Today programme.

Realising the sensitivity of the issue, Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery has stepped in to reassure Hindus that the party is “fully aware of the sensitivities that exist over the situation in Kashmir”. “We recognise that the language used in the emergency motion has caused offence in some sections of the Indian diaspora, and in India itself,” he said in a statement.

The stated dated 11th November, reads;

“I am writing to you in relation to the concern which has been expressed to me over the emergency motion on Kashmir passed at this year’s Labour Party conference.

“The Labour Party is fully aware of the sensitivities that exist over the situation in Kashmir. We recognise that the language used in the emergency motion has caused offence in some section 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 divide communities against each other here in the UK”.

He clarified that the Labour Party’s official position on Kashmir remains the same as was stated by our National Policy Forum in its annual report for 2019. Kashmir is a bilateral matter for Indian and Pakistan to resolve together by means of a peaceful solution which protects the human rights of the Kashmir people and respects their right to have a say in their own future. Labour is opposed to external inference in the political affairs of any other country. As an internationalist party, our concern is to ensure respect for the human rights of all people in the world, regardless of where they live.

Ian Lavery further stated that the Labour Party holds the Indian diaspora community in the highest regard. We respect and celebrate the immense contribution which Indians of the all backgrounds have made to the UK in business, medicine, the arts and so many other fields. I am proud that Labour counts many people of Indian origin at all levels of our party and broader labour movement.

In conclusion, Ian Lavery assured that the Labour Party will not adopt any anti-India or anti-Pakistan over Kashmir. We are motivated by our desire to protect the human rights of all peoples in the current situation, and I am confident that this is a position you will share.

According to official figures, there are more than a million Hindus in Great Britain, while there are more than three million Muslims.

Research by the Runnymede Trust shows that in 2015 and 2017, Labour remained the most popular party among ethnic minority voters (77% of them voted Labour in 2017).

The report says ethnic minority voters made up one in 5 of Labour voters but only one in 20 of Conservative voters.

The Times of India recently reported that the overseas friends of India’s ruling party – the BJP – will be encouraging Hindus not to vote for Labour in marginal seats, which could make all the difference at 12 December’s UK general election.

The Today programme has seen WhatsApp messages sent to Hindus across the country urging them to vote Conservatives.

One message reads, “The Labour Party has blindly supported Pakistan’s propaganda against the issue of Article 370 in Kashmir. Labour Party is against India – the Conservative party isn’t”. These messages have come from members of Hindu organisations as well as individuals of Hindu and Indian heritage.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Labour’s candidate in Slough, recently urged people of Hindu and Sikh faith not to “fall for the divisive tactics of religious hardliners, trying to wedge apart our cohesive community, circulating lies on WhatsApp”.