Keir Starmer has repositioned Labour on the issue of the Kashmiri conflict after meeting with the executive team of Labour Friends of India (LFIN) this morning.
Following his call with the group, the new Labour leader said: “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.
“Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.”
His vow to rebuild links with the British Indian community comes after LFIN warned during the Jeremy Corbyn era that its relationship with Labour was “strained”.
Referring to events at Labour’s 2019 conference, in November the LFIN condemned the “anti-Indian rhetoric contained in the emergency motion on Kashmir”.
Labour delegates passed a motion criticising the actions of India in the Kashmiri conflict, and said the people of Kashmir should have self-determination rights.
The policy motion approved by conference also called for international monitors to be admitted to the region.
Corbyn had also made his views clear, tweeting in August 2019: “The situation in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. Human rights abuses taking place are unacceptable.
“The rights of the Kashmiri people must be respected and UN resolutions implemented.”
Ian Lavery, then party chair, issued a letter after conference to clarify Labour’s position. He described Kashmir as a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve, and said Labour was opposed to external interference.
Labour Friends of India warned last year that the Labour Party “must ensure it is never seen to take the support of the Indian community for granted”.
Pledging to promote UK-India ties, Keir Starmer today said: “A Labour government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to co-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change.
“I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”
Rajesh Agrawal, LFIN co-chair and deputy mayor of London for business, commented: “I really welcome his commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community.
“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.”
LabourList found during the 2019 general election that the Kashmir issue was raised repeatedly on the doorstep by voters in seats such as Harrow East, which was marginal at the time.
The comments made by Starmer today on Labour’s approach to the Kashmiri conflict will be divisive among party members, and particularly controversial on the party’s left.
Labour representatives such as councillor Shaista Aziz have argued that the party should be explicit and vocal in its support for the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination.
She argued on LabourList that the conference motion should be prioritised because thousands of men had been arrested with no due process, and women reported being threatened with rape.
There have been reports of enforced disappearances and journalists in the region have documented accusations of torture by Indian security forces.
Newly elected Labour MP Tahir Ali, in his maiden speech, said: “This is not, in my view, a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan — the international community needs to take responsibility.”