Why has Labour dumped its conference policy on Kashmir?

By Sacha Ismail

Labour conference in September passed a motion of protest against the Indian state’s stepping up of repression in Kashmir, calling for “the right of self-determination” and for the party “to stand with the Kashmiri people fighting against occupation”.

Now, under pressure from the Hindu nationalist right and far-right, the party machine has retreated.

Labour chair Ian Lavery has written a letter to Indian-background voters in the UK saying that “Labour is opposed to external interference in the political affairs of any other country”. Lavery does nod towards the right of the Kashmiri people “to have a say in their own future”, but insists that “Kashmir is a bilateral matter for India and Pakistan to resolve together”. “Labour will not take a pro-Indian or pro-Pakistan stance on Kashmir”.

Lavery’s statement is a mass of evasions – denouncing “external interference” in such a way as to rule out international solidarity, and dismissing the Kashmiris’ human rights and democracy as something for the Indian and Pakistani states to sort out between them.

Worse still, he says: “We recognise that the language used in the emergency motion has caused offence in some sections of the India diaspora and in India itself”. As the South Asia Solidarity Group comments, this assertion “is particularly dangerous because it appears to accept the Hindu fascist claim that any criticism of the current Indian government and its actions is an attack on India and Indians”.

Lavery appeals to the bland statement agreed by Labour’s National Policy Forum in the summer, before conference discussed the issue. So much for party democracy!

For the real issues in Kashmir, see the article by Nadia Whittome, now the Labour candidate in Nottingham East, which we published in August.

The background to the Labour leadership’s retreat is a campaign orchestrated by supporters of India’s governing Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, and associated organisations even further to its right. Supporters of this constellation in the UK are explicitly campaigning for a Tory victory in the general election, and using Labour conference’s stand on Kashmir as their hook, plus ranting about the “far left” and “Islamic terrorism”.

Polling suggests a majority of Indian-background voters voted Labour in 2017. The Hindu nationalists want to swing a layer of those voters to the Tories by appealing to communalism.

The problem is made worse by sympathisers of the Hindu right in the Labour Party. Retiring MP Keith Vaz is a strong Modi supporter. So is born-again-Corbynite Barry Gardiner. The latter is involved in the recently relaunched “Labour Friends of India”, which welcomed Lavery’s letter and attacked the conference motion.

The Labour Friends of India statement claims that only one new Indian-background candidate, Nav Mishra, has been selected in a winnable seat. It ignores Nadia Whittome, presumably because Nadia’s background is Indian but not Hindu and because she is a vocal supporter of Kashmir.

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