The UK’s British Indian community has welcomed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s new stance on Kashmir- calling it a ‘bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully’ and emphasising that matters of the ‘sub-continent should not divide communities here’.
Taking fresh impetus from the election of Sir Starmer, the Executive Team of Labour Friends of India (LFIN) under the leadership of Co-Chair, Rajesh Agrawal, met with the new Leader to discuss rebuilding trust with the British Indian community, shared values and promoting UK-India ties. Sir Starmer also pledged to work closely with LFIN to encourage more people from an Indian background to stand for elected positions both in Westminster and local government.
Speaking about the contributions of the British-Indians to the party and his willingness to forge a better relation with the community, the Labour leader said, “Britons of Indian origin contribute so much to the UK and to the Labour Party. I’m committed to working closely with Labour Friends of India to rebuild trust with the community. We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here. Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully.
“Labour is an internationalist Party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.
“A Labour Government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change. I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”
Rajesh Agrawal, Co-Chair of Labour Friends of India & Deputy Mayor of London for business saiid, “I congratulate Keir Starmer on his election as Leader. I really welcome his commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community. This has been a great start and Keir has achieved a lot in the short span of couple of weeks. Labour Friends of India will work closely with him and will continue to promote UK-India ties as well as continuing to raise any issues from the community to the leadership.”
Natural party for British Indians
Speaking about re-connecting with the Indian community, Mr Agrawal in an exclusive interview told Asian Voice, “Labour Party is the natural party for British Indians but last few years have seen the relations strained. I really welcome Keir Starmer's commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community. Keir has started off really well and has achieved a lot in the short span of time by addressing some of the most difficult issues. The British Indian community can already see that the process of healing has started, but I am equally aware that it will require a lot of effort & time.”
But during the last general election, Kashmir issue had impacted the relationship between the British Hindus and the party. A number of campaigns were held against it by the community, that felt agonised and dejected, after the party under Jeremy Corbyn seemed to have ‘polarised’ the ‘India-Pakistan conflict’. However, Morning Star has reported, that the leader came under increased fire for changing the Labour Party’s policy on Kashmir after meeting the executive team from Labour Friends of India, last week.
A proud British Indian himself, the LFIN Chair emphasises that to empower any community, it is important to have a strong voice and representation. “LFIN will actively engage with the community and work towards strengthening UK-India ties,” Mr Agrawal told the newsweekly. “Keir has pledged to work closely with LFIN to encourage more people from an Indian background to stand for elected positions both in Westminster and local government.”
He added, “Keir has already made it clear that he wants to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India. He is looking forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner. India is one of world’s fastest growing major economy and an emerging super power. Keir is keen to building even closer relationship with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change.”
Covid-19 digital roundtable fiasco
But with everything going for the new Labour party and its efforts to engage with the British Indians, the recent absence of British Hindus in the Covid-19 digital roundtable to review the impact of coronavirus on the BAME community, has opened up a new can of worms.
According to 2011 census, UK has 1.5mn Indians living in Britain, and 817,000 of Hindus, that form 1.5% of UK’s population. The virus has affected 16.2% of the BAME community, according to NHS England, out of which 3% are Indians.
Mahendra Pattni, Trustee of Hindu Council of Brent, wrote to Sir Starmer, asking why the Hindus have been excluded in a roundtable, that reviews a condition that directly affects the community, urging the leader to ‘reconsider’ his decision.
A letter that has been seen by Asian Voice states, “I am writing directly to you to raise my urgent and serious concern that there is no representation from the British Hindu Community which numbers over a million British citizens on the Covid-19 review that you as leader of the Opposition have commissioned. My understanding is that the review will examine why the virus appears to disproportionately impact those from ethnic minority backgrounds without engaging the views of the Hindu community. I find this extremely insensitive. That a community of over a million people who actively strive to play a part in helping Great Britain prosper every day have been so callously brushed aside is extremely worrying.
“Baroness Lawrence maybe leading the review but as the leader of the Labour Party you are accountable for the review. So again, I would like to understand why you have chosen not to engage the Hindu community…
“I find it alarming that you chose not to contact either of the two largest organisations that represent the million Hindus in Great Britain namely the Hindu Forum of Britain and the Hindu Council UK, despite offering considerations to the Jewish and Sikh Communities who are much smaller in their numbers in the UK.
“I trust you will reconsider your decision and give our community the respect it too deserves as you have given to the other organisations that you have so positively engaged with...”
The British Indian Voice has tweeted a letter to Sir Starmer, on 8 April 2020 sent by Hindu Forum of Britain’s President Trupti Patel, as a reply to the Labour leader’s invitation to discuss rising issues with her. She highlighted ‘Caste legislation, Anti-India stance and Hinduphobia in the Labour party’, are some of the key topics she would like to highlight in her discussion, if the party wants to begin the process of reconciliation and positive engagement.
But clearing the air, Mr Agrawal told Asian Voice that the party leader has already met with the Hindu community to discuss the pandemic challenge and effect on the community. “Covid-19 is the biggest health & economic emergency since the second world war. It is incredibly sad the way it is affecting people around the world. While the virus itself doesn’t discriminate between people based on faith, community, race or nationality, it has disproportionately impacted the people from BAME community. Official figures show more than a third of people in intensive care from Covid-19 are from BAME backgrounds – well over double the proportion of BAME people in the wider population,” he said.
“I am glad that Keir Starmer has charged equalities campaigner Baroness Doreen Lawrence to lead a review on this matter. I know that Keir Starmer, Baroness Doreen Lawrence and Angela Rayner have already met with Hindu Council UK and Hindu Forum of Britain and have discuss this issue along with others,” he added.