British Indian fury over ‘anti-India, divisive’ Labour Party by-election leaflet

British Indian fury over ‘anti-India, divisive’ Labour Party by-election leaflet
Courtesy: Stefan Rousseau - PA Images / Contributor | PA Images via Getty Images

British Indian organisations reacted with fury after a Labour Party leaflet circulating for the ongoing by-election campaign in the constituency of Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire featured Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a handshake with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The message next to the image reads: “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side”.

The leaflet was posted on Twitter on Monday by Conservative Party MP Richard Holden and attracted a flurry of furious reactions, with people accusing the Opposition party of stirring up divisions for political gain.

“Dear Keir Starmer, please can you explain this leaflet and clarify whether a Labour PM/politician would refuse to have any relationship with the world’s largest democracy? Is this your message to 1.5 million+ members of the Indian diaspora in UK,” questioned the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) diaspora organisation.

The group further drew attention to a Labour-led Early Day Motion, tabled in the House of Commons recently, which had raised concerns around racism and Hinduphobia faced by the British Indian community.

Labour Friends of India (LFIN) stepped in to call on its party to “immediately withdraw” the “unfortunate” imagery of the leaflet and said it was writing to the party leadership to complain.

“The Labour Party is right to call out Boris Johnson’s lack of action following the conclusion that anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the Conservative Party. It is unfortunate that the Labour Party used a picture of the Prime Minister of India, the world’s largest democracy and one of UK’s closest friends, from the G7 meeting in 2019, on its leaflet,” LFIN said in its statement.

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“The Labour Party has a proud history with India and is grateful for the support of Indian origin voters across the country, as well as our many Indian origin elected politicians at every level,” the statement read.

Veteran Indian-origin Labour MP Virendra Sharma also called for the withdrawal of the leaflets as he criticised the move as “cheap divide and rule” and “dog-whistle” politics not worthy of Labour.

The MP for Ealing Southall in west London said: “The Labour Party has always been the party of working people, and working communities; divisive messages like this break those communities they don’t help them.

“The Labour Party will win by bringing people together and uniting the community, to do anything else will divide our community and play into Tory hands.”

Another Indian-origin Labour MP, Navendu Mishra, took to Twitter to declare that “racism is alive and well within Labour”.

“A hierarchy of racism exists inside the party and some groups are seen as fair game for attacks based on religion/race/heritage,” said Mishra, MP for Stockport in northern England.

“Labour will not win by playing divide and rule politics against our communities. We will win based on a principled stance against racism and discrimination of all kinds inside and outside the party,” he said.

The Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP) diaspora group also reacted by organising a letter of complaint to Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer, as it blasted the “votebank politics” of the campaign leaflet for the by-election this week.

“OFBJP objects to this kind of anti-India branding just for votebank politics. Such posters and statements are clearly a sign of divisive politics played by Labour,” said OFBJP President Kuldeep Shekhawat.

Friends of India Society International UK (FISI UK) expressed deep anguish over what it described as the Labour Party’s “continuous unsubstantiated anti-India stance”, which was a key reason for its tragic loss in the last General Election in December 2019.

The FISI UK statement notes: “The recent divisive campaign and the leaflet set out by the party in Batley and Spen targeting Indian PM Modi underlines its disrespectful attitude towards the British Indian community.

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“The diaspora is extremely angered by such blatant partisan anti-India display by Labour yet again. This, at a time, when the UK considers India as a close ally and progressing with plans of strengthening the relationship in a post-Brexit and post-Covid world.”

Insight UK, an Indian diaspora advocacy group, branded the leaflets another sign of the UK Labour alienating itself from British Indians, British Hindus and India since former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure.

“Traditionally British Indians had been voters of the Labour Party but started to sway away from them for their anti-India and anti-Hindu agenda,” it noted.

The Labour Party has been approached for a comment.

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