• Monday, November 28, 2022

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: Don’t Pit Asian against Asian

POLL PRESSURE: There has been widespread criticism of the tactics of playing one Asian community against another (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

Racist, divisive politics which pit Hindus against Muslims and Indians against Pakistanis must stop, say MPs and the mayor of London.

The issue is something Eastern Eye has reported several times.

But it has reared its head once again after last week’s local elections (5 May).

Sources have told this newspaper that British-Indian Hindus, voting in Harrow in London, deserted Labour because of the party’s criticism of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his stance on Kashmir.

They also accused Labour of taking the Indian-Hindu vote for granted.

One senior Labour insider told Eastern Eye, “There are things that the Labour party needs to do, but there are also things that the Conservative Party needs to do.

“There are things that the Hindu community and the Muslim community need to do, because the root of this is basically racist, divisive politics.

Sir Keir Starmer speaks with supporters as he congratulates winning Labour candidates in Cumberland. Labour had mixed results in the local elections last Thursday (6). (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

“Labour is guilty of allowing its members of parliament that represent Muslim constituencies to basically stir up issues that they know are flashpoints for the communities, like Kashmir.

“The Tories are doing exactly the same thing in the other direction.

“They are painting a picture of being the anti-Islamic, pro-Hindu, party, and it’s got to stop.”

Last Thursday’s local elections saw mixed results for Labour.

In London, the party gained the Tory flagship councils of Westminster and Wandsworth, but it lost control of Harrow and Croydon.

One Labour source said, “Many Gujarati Hindus voters are clearly not convinced the party has moved on enough from the Corbyn era.”

Tory losses

Westminster has always been Conservative since it was formed in the 1960s, while Wandsworth is described as former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite council.

In Harrow, Labour lost eight seats while the Conservatives gained the same number.

That meant the Tories took overall control of the council for time since 2006.

“We’ve got to respect and work with everybody, no matter what your religion or your background, said the Labour London mayor, Sadiq Khan.

“We can’t play one off against another, I’m not suggesting that we did.

“What I try to do as the mayor of London is work with everyone.

“So, I have really good relations with all communities, whether they are Hindu, Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or not members of organised religion.

“That’s the way to do politics. I’m not somebody who believes in sectarianism, whether it’s religious or other grounds.

“I’m a bridge builder, or somebody who works on knocking down walls.

“What none of us should ever do is to take anybody’s vote for granted.”

Sadiq Khan, Westminster councillor Adam Hug and Karen Buck MP celebrate following Labour’s local election gains last Thursday. (Photo: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Khan is also clear that under Kier Starmer, the party has not tried to divide along religious lines.

“I’ve not seen that under the current regime,” he said.

“I know there were concerns under Jeremy Corbyn, but Kier has respect for different religions, he’s been quite clear in working together with everybody.

“Listen, the Hindus you’re talking about are British, right?

“So, I think it’s possible to be a proud Brit, a proud Londoner, proud to be of Hindu faith and Indian origin and that’d be consistent with voting Labour.”

Strategic planning

The Conservatives say the shift in the Indian-Hindu vote from them has been years in the planning and delivery.

Bob Blackman MP won Harrow East for the Tories in 2010.

He is fiercely proud to be the chair of the all-party parliamentary British Hindu group and co-chair of the Indo-British group.

So, why are Hindus voting for his party?

“It’s a combination of factors,” he told Eastern Eye. “First, it is the hard work that Conservative candidates, the whole team put in, not just in the election period, but over an extended period of time.

“You need to recognise that I won Harrow East in 2010, directly from Labour and held it ever since.

“We work week-in-week-out, knocking on doors, talking to people, finding out what their concerns are.

“We now have 20 of the 23 seats in Harrow East as Conservative, and we are in a position whereby 12 of those are from the Hindu community.

“So, it demonstrates the success that we’ve had in connecting with people on a local level, but also on a broader, diverse level, because, obviously, we’ve got people from all communities campaigning with us.

“I’ve been working with the community for 30 years, so it’s nothing new to me.

“What we’ve been able to do, obviously, is to build that trust.

“People trust people who not only talk to them at election times, but actually get involved with the community on a wider scale.”

Divisive politics

But other Labour members who live in Harrow see it another way.

The former chair of the London Assembly, Navin Shah, accused the Conservatives of being divisive.

“This is a very sad situation where Tories in Harrow have stirred up hatred against the Labour party quite wrongly,” he said.

“People like us who are proud members of the Labour Party know what Kashmir means, how important it is.

“But to create the kind of hatred and division that they’ve created is despicable.

“I totally and utterly reject and deplore such division that they’ve created.”

Labour members have accused the Conservatives of being divisive and anti-Islamic

Shah said that he had spent 40 years working in and for the different communities which exist in his borough.

That work was meant to heal divisions and not create them, he said.

“How much do Tories know about Kashmir and the sensitivities?”, he asked.

“Do they know more than then the Indian government or Pakistani government?

“Yes, there are human rights breaches, which there are, let’s look at those, but do not have this divisive propaganda.

“This is the same old colonial British divide and rule they are showing, and I will have none of that.

“Labour has successfully, under Kier Starmer, dealt with issues about anti-Semitism as you can see from the results in Barnet.

“Similarly, we’re working hard, and we will work even harder, to gain that respect and trust of the Indian community.

“But to accuse the Labour Party of being anti-Indian is complete nonsense.”

“Vile messages”

During the last general election in 2019, Eastern Eye saw evidence of Indians on WhatsApp groups who said that “true Hindus would not vote for Labour” because of the party’s position on Kashmir.

“It’s vile, absolutely vile, and they play into inciting hatred,” said the senior Labour insider.

“It’s painting pictures of the Muslim community as violent terrorists, and then painting the Conservative Party as the only bulwark against them.

“It’s not a matter of what can any one political party do, because this is being led by leaders, both of the Islamic and of the Hindu community in this country.

“They’re stoking up hatred against each other.

“They’re importing into the UK, the politics of the Asian subcontinent, and they’re doing it quite deliberately, to foster their own power base within the community to get political preferment on whichever side of the political divide they are on.”

They also stressed that playing one Asian community against another was not just limited to Labour and the Tories.

Harrow, said our source, is a microcosm of what is happening nationally.

“I find that this is not an issue about the Tories winning Harrow, or us clawing seats back in Burnley or Bolton or the red wall.

“It goes way, way beyond that, sort of petty, local politics.

“It’s about the sort of politics that we want to have in this country.

“It’s about whether we want to have our politics infected by hatred, and we really need to get together and build a politics where this can’t happen.

“And when it happens on our side, we call it out whichever side we happen to be on.

“If a politician sees the potential for advantage by getting the support of a particular ethnic group, it’s one thing to appeal to that ethnic group.

“But it’s another thing to do so by vilifying somebody else.”

“We need to stick with our Indian friends”, says Harrow East MP, Bob Blackman

“Historically, Jammu Kashmir in its entirety of the state is part of India, and the illegal occupation by Pakistan, and part of the state, has been a running sore.

“Certainly, not only what happened during partition, but also on what has been allowed to continue with a military occupation by Pakistan.

“I’ve always promoted that aspect.

Bob Blackman builds trust by backing Indian friends

“But I have urged the government, and indeed, our prime minister, to make clear British policy on this, that it’s not for the UK to interfere between India and Pakistan.

“But we should stand four square behind our friends in India, wherein Pakistan has violated UN resolutions.

“When the British Indian community came to the UK, the first big wave was obviously when Idi Amin expelled the so-called Uganda Asians.

“It was a Conservative prime minister, Ted Heath, who granted the right to come to the UK, when even in India, Indira Gandhi, wouldn’t allow them back.

“What happened was Labour put their arms around them, and that’s the problem at a community level.

“They were welcomed by Labour, Labour councils and Labour politicians.

“We as Conservatives didn’t do that at a local level. I was far too young to be involved, but the reality is that we should have done more at the time.

“Now, we’re reaching out to that community, because the fact is that British-Indians are hardworking, stand on their own two feet, and don’t look for a handout.

“They’re energetic, they’re enthusiastic, they get on with life. They look after their elders, and they look after people who are vulnerable, exactly in tune with Conservative values.

“So, it’s really British Indians coming home.

“Labour embraced them, but took their votes for granted, and we’re exposing that now.

“We are a one nation party, we want to bring people together of all religions, races and origins.

“That means obviously, standing up and having principles, but equally, looking to say look, if you want to get involved with us, then this is the aspect.

“I had the chairman of the Conservative Muslim forum, and prominent Hindus campaigning side by side with me.

“The reality is that we’re bringing people together rather than forcing them apart.

“But there has to be a recognition that what is proper and right has to be spoken about.

“I think one of the problems is that often people do try and play that terrible trick of playing one side off against another, which people see through.”

Eastern Eye

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