Following our meeting in Parliament convened by the editor of this paper, I wanted to share it with the readers of this paper and our extensive plans for the future. First my words as Chair, then our plans: “As CB mentioned in his invitation email to those officially invited, in 43 years of publishing he has not seen such strength of feeling. As someone on Facebook commented earlier this week - tongue in cheek: “Thank you Corbyn! You have done something that nobody could do so far for the British Indian community and that is - to bring them together!!!
So one of the key purposes of today’s meeting is simply to make sure we mark this moment - and solidify this emerging unity - and discuss how we can build further on this positive step. So I will ask CB in a moment to share some of his reflections.
Starting with a humble request - despite the emerging unity we have many varied points of view and strong opinions. So let’s agree to express these respectfully - concisely - and politely and not place our host Lord Gadhia in an awkward position because of lack of decorum. I also take this opportunity to thank Lord Gadhia for sponsoring this room in Parliament. Despite everything else going on, I am pleased that he has agreed to sit in on proceedings as an observer and perhaps he can share any reflections at the end.
Turning to my three observations to frame our discussions
FIRST: we do have a large number of Hindu organisations signing the letter and present in this room, but this is not only a Hindu issue - it is an Indian issue and must be seen as such. So the Jain and Sikh organisations are as much a part of this group as others and we would also welcome any Indian Muslim organisations. Moreover, we also have Indian professional organisations - so this cannot be a dharmic only issue
SECOND: this is not a party political meeting in the sense of telling people how to vote. That’s something they must decide in the privacy of the ballot box. What we want to do is to ensure that the Labour Party is aware of the strength of feeling in the community and seek a change of policy and attitudes towards India and British Indians. As such our messages apply equally to all political parties.
THIRD: we don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming an echo chamber. With social media and WhatsApp it’s easy to think that simply circulating strongly worded statements to others amounts to influence and change. We should think carefully about who we are seeking to influence and how we are going about it and what would make us more credible beyond reinforcing the consensus in our own communities. So when we issued the letter on Monday which went viral we were particularly mindful that we are not targeting the usual suspects and audiences. With Lord Gadhia’s help we had Robert Peston the political editor of ITV tweet out not just once but twice. This was hugely important.
Not only is Peston a leading political commentator followed by every single Parliamentarian but to put things into perspective - whilst our organisations assembled here might have a few hundred or at best a few thousand followers on Twitter - Robert Peston has more than 1 million followers and also people who are a totally different audiences to the ones we normally reach. Similarly, we captured the attention of sites like Guido Fawkes and commentators like Tom Harwood. Without reaching into the mainstream we risk being side-lined as a fringe concern.”
CB then took to the floor and covered these points: comparisons to other campaigns which CB has been involved in over four decades; we still have some organisations which are not supporting the letter and he has tried to persuade them and will continue to try. These organisations should take comfort in strength in numbers and being in good company; we should learn to walk before we run there will be many ideas and some people want to be more aggressive and even confrontational in their approach whilst others would prefer to take a more gentle approach. We have to strike the right balance if we want to carry people with us. Carrying more people with us is more important than going to fast or going sacrificing maximum unity.
CB also covered that the next generation of Indians wants to do things differently. They are more professional - they are interested in outcomes and not organisations and positions. We need to guide them but also learn from them and harness their talents. We also have to look at our own diversity. So the likes of Janhavi and Prerna (City Hindu Network) should come forward because we need more women and young people.
We then introduced as a first point of action, a pledge for the various organisations to use in their dealings with politicians at Diwali. As I explained to the Times of India, we had as many people to speak and adopt the five point pledge (you will have read in other parts of this paper) – no objections were raised and many spoke at length indeed one elderly gentleman a little off-subject about their youthfulness in their 70s at reaching young people in their 20s through temple networks. So, it was not all serious. But always a good-natured event.
We think it’s important to quickly build on the letter, especially going into Diwali season when politicians will want to visit Mandirs. We need to be firm, consistent and realistic in our asks. So we have worked with the team to develop these five pledges which we would like politicians to make if they want to be welcomed during the Diwali period.
BAPS, the largest single network of mandirs by both profile and numbers of visitors passing through their doors weekly throughout the UK immediately agreed to adopt the pledge.
Going forward, as well as lobbying and campaigning harder by virtue of our personal networks including in government and numbers, we will also provide greater strength to all the organisations by helping them with issues they raised, such as lack of expertise in modern communications (even Donald Trump in his 70s has mastered Twitter as the most important form of communication today), and also providing them a joint platform to highlight their causes among each other – such as that of the Kashmiri refugees raised eloquently by Sonal Sher, who also wrote to me after “As a Kashmiri Pandit, it was heartening to see so many organisations represented yesterday standing in support of what has often been a lonesome journey. So many people to this day have no idea what happened and that in itself is a shame!" You can read their story at http://bit.ly/kashmirpandits .
This from a refugee. This from one of the organisations, at the largest ever single unified meeting of British Indian organisations in Parliament.
For those who have had to suffer in silence, that's why it was important to have all together in one room. There can be no greater credibility, than from those who have suffered at the end of a sword and bullet - been given a voice. A platform, strength, support, and leverage through our simple power to convene. That is legitimacy and authority - those who've been exterminated.