The Labour Party’s Kashmir motion divides South Asians in the UK ahead of elections

18 November 2019
Demonstrators protest the Indian government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status in Trafalgar Square, London. The votes of many in the British South Asian community may be influenced by their candidates’ stance on the issue.
Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images
Demonstrators protest the Indian government’s revocation of Kashmir’s special status in Trafalgar Square, London. The votes of many in the British South Asian community may be influenced by their candidates’ stance on the issue.
Yui Mok/PA Images/Getty Images

On 12 December, the United Kingdom will hold a general election to find a resolution to the political deadlock over Brexit—a term that refers to the UK’s potential withdrawal from the European Union. However, not every voter will have Brexit on their minds as they cast their ballot.

The votes of many in the British South Asian community—specifically Indians and Pakistanis—may be influenced by their candidates’ stance on the Indian government’s recent moves in Kashmir. On 5 August, the Indian government revoked the special status granted to Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Following the move, several reports emerged of human-rights violations at the hands of the Indian security forces.

In its annual conference in September, the UK’s Labour Party passed an emergency motion on Kashmir. The motion noted that “there is a major humanitarian crisis taking place in Kashmir,” and called for “international observers to enter the region.” It further took note of “the enforced disappearance of civilians,” “the overall prevalence of human rights violations” and “the house arrest / imprisonment of mainstream politicians and activists.” It added that “the people of Kashmir should be given the right of self-determination.”

After the motion was passed, there was a backlash against it from many in the British Indian community, prompting the Labour party to later clarify that it views Kashmir as a “bilateral matter” between India and Pakistan. In September, The Indian High Commission cancelled a dinner reception with the Labour Friends of India, a group comprising Labour Party members, supporters and political office holders.

The motion also angered Bharatiya Janata Party supporters in Britain. The Overseas Friends of the BJP, or OFBJP, a foreign advocacy group with links to the BJP, urged Indians in the UK not to vote for the Labour Party. Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat, the OFBJP’s UK president, told the Times of India that it is campaigning in favour of the ruling Conservative Party, and that it has identified 48 seats where there are significant numbers of Indian-origin voters.

Kamalpreet Kaur is a freelancer who works with print, radio, TV and online. She lives and works in London.

Keywords: Kashmir Article 370 United Kingdom Indian Diaspora
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