By Mohan Sen
After meeting with the executive of “Labour Friends of India” (LFIN), a group which opposes criticism of India’s far-right government, Keir Starmer has moved to ditch support for human rights and democracy in Kashmir.
In September Labour Party conference passed an emergency motion in opposition to Indian state oppression in Kashmir and in support of self-determination. Incited by LFIN, who have denounced the motion ever since, Starmer has once again trampled on democratically-agreed party policy.
In doing so he is bending to a campaign orchestrated by the Indian government-linked Hindu nationalist far right – who intervened actively in the UK general election to support the Tories, smear Labour as “anti-Indian” and “anti-Hindu”, and pit different religious communities against each other. As the South Asia Solidarity Group has put it, bending to this pressure means accepting “the Hindu fascist claim that any criticism of the current Indian government and its actions is an attack on India and Indians”.
After meeting LFIN, Starmer said that “any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament”. Imagine saying that “any constitutional issues in Israel-Palestine” are a matter for the far right-dominated Knesset – and the Indian parliament is just as dominated by the extreme right. He said that “a Labour government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India” and that he looks forward to discussing with the Indian government “to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India”.
As well as a capitulation to communalist agitation in the UK, this is blatantly, blatantly an attempt at rapprochement with the Indian regime. It is a betrayal of our comrades, including vast numbers of labour movement activists, suffering in order to fight for democracy in India. In this context Starmer’s statement that “Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere” is appalling double-talk.
So much for the new Labour leader’s projected image as a champion of human rights!
Labour members and affiliates must insist that conference policy is respected, that Starmer withdraw his statements or at least radically shifts what he is saying, and that the party really does stand up human rights everywhere, including in Kashmir.
• See below for an article from August 2019 explaining the issues in Kashmir by Nadia Whittome, now MP for Nottingham East. It hardly needs saying that things are much worse today. For our comments last November when Ian Lavery indicated moves in the direction Starmer is now speeding, see here.
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Labour must stand with Kashmir
By Nadia Whittome. First published here, August 2019
By revoking Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution that provide special autonomous status and residency rules for Jammu and Kashmir, and preparing to break up the state, Narenda Modi’s far-right, Hindu-supremacist government has effectively declared war on the Kashmiri people. It has virtually declared a literal war too, with tens of thousands of troops invading the state, mainstream political leaders under house arrest, a total communications blackout, and reports of widespread human rights abuses. An already bad situation has got much worse, fast.
This attack foremost profoundly impacts the people of Kashmir, in particular, but not only, the roughly 70pc Muslim majority. It also further endangers the Muslim minority in India, who are the main targets of Hindu nationalists now running the country. Beyond this, the UK has the largest diaspora Kashmiri community in the world and, whilst the blackout continues, they are unable to check that friends or family in Kashmir are safe. And more generally this is a dramatic deepening of the far-right project Modi’s regime has been gradually escalating.
It is extremely disappointing that the Labour Party has not spoken out loudly about India’s assault on Kashmir. Firstly, because an injury to one is an injury to all, and we should stand against human rights abuses and suppression of democracy everywhere in the world. Secondly, because our party and movement should be the determined enemy of the far right everywhere in the world, and the Indian government is a central element of that growing far right internationally. No Pasarán!
Foreign and Commonwealth Office Shadow Minister, Liz McInnes, has made a statement on behalf of the Labour Party, but it is not strong enough politically nor does it amount to campaigning solidarity. The party leadership is largely silent. A group of Muslim-background Labour MPs have written a stronger letter to the British government demanding real opposition to the Indian government’s moves. They should not be left to fight alone.
Labour must insist that the British government releases a clear statement of condemnation, demanding reinstatement of Articles 370 and 35A, immediate military de-escalation, and the immediate suspension of British arms sales for use by the Indian military. Crucially, the British government must publicly assert the Kashmiri peoples’ right to self-determination and support the plebiscite that was promised at the time of accession, and give a firm commitment to use all diplomatic means to resolve this.
It is hard to know exactly why the party nationally has not stirred itself. It may simply be the inertia which hangs over the party on various international – and not just international – issues. Where are the strong statements of support for the democracy movement in Sudan, for instance, or in Hong Kong, or against the suppression of the Uyghurs? But I cannot help but also wonder if the presence of BJP or Modi sympathisers in senior positions is also a factor. Barry Gardiner in particular has a two-decades long record of supporting Modi, including recent statements praising him. To come out fighting on this also implies confronting the likes of Gardiner.
Socialists are not advocates for any nationalist movement or nationalist solution to a conflict. We are internationalists. But internationalism demands determined opposition to oppression and in this case to the Indian imperialist Hindutva drive against the people of Kashmir. In this case it is not enough simply to resolve for “peace” because, as in Palestine, peace in Kashmir is necessarily dependent on the right to meaningful self-determination.
Let us campaign for our party and unions to make a strong stand against the Indian occupation of Kashmir, for peace, and the right to self-determination. Meanwhile members should educate themselves on the issues; write to our MPs asking for support; organise solidarity meetings or actions and attend those already being organised; and share protests and information on social media.