The strong UK-India relations, particularly in relation to culture, economics and opportunities, has paved way for an Enhanced Trade Partnership to prepare the ground for a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. What is more, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would have been able to keep his commitment to be the Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day parade had it not been the medical emergency caused by a new strain of the coronavirus.
The friendship that the two countries enjoy has only strengthened the desire of the two PMs to meet and Johnson has promised to visit India before the G7 Summit in June 2021, where he plans to welcome the Indian PM, Narendra Modi, to Cornwall for the multilateral meet.
The keen desire to work closely to respond to the pandemic crisis and to create a shared pathway to economic recovery is evident from the number of high level engagements there have been in recent months. The two leaders value the living bridge of people, skills and livelihoods between the two countries and have placed very energetic and experienced senior diplomats in key positions across the missions to strengthen this bridge.
As the narrative of a strong UK-India partnership gains ground, one finds an annoying spanner in the works. Certain backbench parliamentarians seem to have placed the positive data points of Indian contribution to UK economy and society in a sort of blind spot. For them, India is a “fascist nation” causing “gross human rights violations” and happens to be an “unsafe place to live in”.
I wonder why then India boasts of perhaps one of the most populous diplomatic UK missions in any foreign country, and growing?
As a citizen of UK, one wonders why my elected representative participates in misleading propaganda against a country (India) that is the second highest foreign direct investment contributor to my country?
Statistically speaking, there is an increase in the number of ethnic minority ethnic political representatives, both in Parliament and in wards across UK boroughs. Though the Cabinet seems to be fairly desi, there is a skewed representation of the “Indian” constituent interest among parliamentarians and worse still in the councils. The Pakistani diaspora seems to have nailed the vote bank politics and therefore keep the pressure on their elected representatives to actively present the narrative that suits their interest of vilifying India.
It has been said in the past that the Indian diaspora needs to do much more to increase its participation in political processes in the UK. With most members of the diaspora community busy pursuing education and technical careers, politics and civil service don’t feature that prominently in their aspiration, neither for themselves nor for their children. In order to encourage young people to take interest in politics and public life, the UK Parliament Week is organised each year by the Parliament as an outreach initiative.
As per the UK Parliament Week website, over 1.2 million people took part, in every region of the UK. During this week, some exciting activities are organised, aimed at varying age groups, including creating campaigns and petitions for change; debating issues and holding votes; themed assemblies and council elections; even visits from the local members of Parliament from both Houses, local Councillors, Mayors and Members of Scottish Parliament (MSPs); encouraging participants to utilise the many resources available to easily download from their website.
Lies and propaganda
I first came across the UK Parliament Week while working with Bob Blackman MP, though we hardly saw Indian diaspora participation in it. I was, therefore, pleased to note the active role that Hindu Swayamsewak Sangha (HSS) played in organising the UK Parliament Week for their volunteers and members, all from the ethnic Indian community in the last two years.
You will wonder why in the UK it is relevant to increase Indian ethnic representation? Well, why don’t you go to the Hansard and search for key words: ‘India’ and ‘Kashmir’. I did this for the last one year and found appalling results in the form of debates, early day motions, written and oral questions, largely full of lies and propaganda statements.
In terms of search results: for ‘India’ there were 2,450 results; ‘Kashmir’ had 92 results; for ‘human rights + India’ there were 114 results.
Curious to see how issues such as ‘Grooming’, ‘Brexit’, ‘Diversity’ did, here is what I found for the past year:
For ‘grooming’, there were 68 results
For ‘Brexit’ there were 3,384 results
For ‘diversity’ there were 586 results
For ‘healthcare’ there were 1,404 results
For ‘food poverty’ there were 418 results
On an average, the Parliament has sat for 67 days each year, spread over 20 sitting weeks. Of the 365 days if only 67 days were dedicated to discussing matters on the floor of Parliament, does it not sound suspicious why instead of prioritising important matters concerning the people of United Kingdom, certain backbench MPs have made it their job to present an Indo-phobic stance in the UK Parliament? That too, relying on “false assertions” and “unsubstantiated allegations propagated by a third country” as pointed out by the High Commission of India in London last week, expressing its deep dismay at the gross misrepresentation of India in the UK Parliament in a recently held backbench Westminster debate.
Imagine if these extra hours spent in misleading Parliament were utilised instead to discuss important domestic matters, particularly noting that the UK is battling a much worse situation caused by the pandemic and has just exited the European Union (EU) and has many unresolved business matters to get through.
Kashmir has become a propaganda flashpoint for miscreants and troublemakers in the UK Parliament. As I and my fellow persecuted minority Hindus from the Kashmir Valley enter our 31st year in exile, let me remind certain politicians that misusing the parliamentary processes those constituents of yours who compel you to highlight alleged human rights violations of “Kashmiris” in India, claiming to be “Kashmiris” themselves, are in fact not Kashmiris!
A majority of these people claiming to be from Kashmir are in fact from the Mirpur belt of Pakistan-Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (mostly from the Jammu region) and are Dogra Muslims. Kashmiris are those who trace their roots to the valley of Kashmir and speak the language Kashmiri. I and many fellow Hindus who were forced out of our homes in January 1990 and those Hindus ousted from their homes in 1947 (and five other times before that in the last 1,000 years) are Kashmiris.
The past few days, stories of fellow Kashmiri Pandits have been shared over series of webinars; horrifying accounts of rape, loot, assault and cold-blooded mass murder shared nervously by the surviving family and, in very few cases, the survivors themselves. I am pained to notice that the most vocal campaigners of human rights and rights of minorities among these backbench MPs pay no cognisance to the plight of my fellow community members; many who are constituents of these rogue MPs. Despite multiple emails to these MPs by members of the Indian diaspora in the UK, they choose to ignore the plight of their constituents. One wonders if they do it on purpose and are in fact are just propagandists in the garb of libertarian rights campaigners!
So my dear friends, if you are still feeling helpless, I encourage you to start by educating yourselves of the political processes in the country you live in and follow closely what your local MP says in the Parliament on your behalf. Your oblivion may cause your MP to be creating an unhealthy, hostile environment of hate against you, your family and community. At least take the first step and find out!
Laksmhi Kaul is the London-based UK Head & Representative at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and an active Indian diaspora campaigner. In this regular Talking Point column for ‘iGlobal’, she will focus on issues that deserve spotlighting within the Global Indian community, referencing her personal experiences.