Kashmir a bilateral issue, should not divide communities in UK: Labour leader Starmer
London: Keir Starmer, the UK’s newly-elected Leader of the Opposition Labour Party, on Thursday said Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully and stressed that such divisive issues from the subcontinent should not be allowed to divide communities in Britain.
In an attempt to reach out to the Indian diaspora and distance the party from a perceived hostile stance under the previous leadership, Starmer pledged to build stronger business links with India during his first dialogue with the Labour Friends of India (LFIN) group in London on Thursday.
“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,” said Starmer, in a statement following the meeting.
“A Labour government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to cooperate on the global stage on issues such as climate change,” he said.
It marks a strategic step to draw a line under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and move Labour away from some of the controversial actions widely perceived as anti-India by the diaspora population. The most glaring was a resolution passed at the annual party conference in September last year that purported to seek international intervention in Kashmir.
The resolution was widely seen as influencing much of the 1.5-million diaspora vote in the December 2019 General election, which resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Labour Party.
“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,” Starmer said, adding that he would encourage more British Indians into elected posts in Westminster as well as at local government level.
He also indicated plans to hold discussions with the Indian High Commissioner in the UK, Ruchi Ghanashyam, in due course to open a “renewed dialogue” between the Labour Party and people of India.
“I really welcome his commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community,” said Rajesh Agrawal, LFIN Co-Chair and the Deputy Mayor of London for Business.
“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,” he said.
LFIN had called for a “healing process” under the new Labour leadership soon after Starmer’s election earlier this month.
“The Labour Party is the natural party for British Indians but the last few years have seen the relations strained. I hope the change in leadership is the beginning of a healing process and the party will be able to regain the trust of the British Indian community,” Agrawal said at the time.
Starmer’s interaction with LFIN follows Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Indian-origin Lisa Nandy, dialling in earlier this week for a “constructive” virtual interaction with Ghanshyam on India-UK relations and collaborations in combating the coronavirus pandemic.
The moves indicate a repositioning within the party on its approach to India and controversial issues in the sub-continent.
“Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere,” said Starmer in his statement this week.
Under Corbyn’s leadership, diaspora groups in the UK had repeatedly spoken out against a perceived anti-India sentiment within the Labour Party ranks.
Most recently, there was some consternation at a debate on Kashmir being included on the order paper for parliamentary business by a group of Pakistani-origin backbench Labour MPs, which did not go ahead due to the stripped-down model being followed by the House of Commons during the lockdown.