LONDON: Amidst big debate of the Labour policy on Kashmir issue, the Labour leaderSir Keir Starmer has denied any change in the party’s position on Jammu and Kashmir after his recent remarks seeking to rebuild trust with India and the Indian diaspora in the UK sparked a welter of protest from party MPs and members with origins and links to Pakistan.
Starmer’s remarks to the Labour Friends of India (LFIN) on March 30 were seen as ‘repositioning’ the party’s position on the dispute, since they sought to distance the party from that under the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn, which was seen as ‘anti-India’.
Last week, Starmer met party MPs and others, particularly those of Pakistan origin, who protested against his view that the dispute was a matter for India and Pakistan to resolve, and that he intended to focus on building “even stronger business links with India”.
The Pakistani community in the UK has largely stood by Labour even as large sections of the Indian community have gravitated towards the Conservatives in recent elections. Starmer’s perceived ‘pro-India’ remarks drew sharp criticism inside and outside the party.
Starmer wrote to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which sought a clarification from him: “Our position on Kashmir has not changed, we support and recognise previous UN resolutions on the rights of the Kashmiri people but maintain that if we are to find a lasting settlement, to end this conflict, that can only be achieved if India and Pakistan working together, with the people of Kashmir”.
His remarks to LFIN and the MCB come in the context of violence and more in London after New Delhi made fundamental changes in the status of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019. A resolution at the party’s conference in September calling for outside intervention was angrily rejected by the ministry of external affairs in New Delhi.
Sir Starmer added in the letter to MCB: “As I outlined in my leadership campaign, my approach to international relations will be to always promote peace and put human rights first. I will also ensure that (shadow foreign secretary) Lisa Nandy follows up on this correspondence and reached out to you to discuss how we can ensure the voices of our Kashmiri communities contribute to Labour’s policy making processes”, he added.
Indian circles believe Starmer is keen to draw a line from the Corbyn era on Kashmir as part of his bid to regain power at the next elections, but remain cautiously optimistic on his overtures so far.