Social media was abuzz with activity as both Indian and Indian origin netizens, reacted strongly to a tweet made by Jeremy Corbyn. Tweeting on August 11, the Labour Party leader and Britain’s Leader of the Opposition bluntly stated that the situation in Kashmir was ‘deeply disturbing’, called for India to curb ‘human rights abuses’ and ensure that ‘UN resolutions were implemented.’
For those unfamiliar with British politics on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, Corbyn’s remarks would come as a bolt from the blue. Though Britain has not been as vociferous as other countries on supporting India on J&K, the statement issued by the British Foreign Office last week stating that it supported ‘calls for the situation to remain calm’ would have been enough to reassure India that the UK politicians – who normally follows a consensus on foreign policy matters – would back Delhi on Kashmir. Clearly, as Corbyn’s Tweet showed that is not the case.
To understand why, one has to take certain factors into account. The first factor is electoral concerns. With the Johnson government barely hanging on an election seems imminent and here Corbyn, as his Labour predecessors have done in the past, is to cater to the Pakistani vote. Unlike British Indians whose votes are fractured between the Conservative and Labour parties, British Pakistanis, most of whom are Mirpuri by origin, vote en masse for the Labour Party and their votes can tip the balance in at least 30-40 seats, something that can be crucial in a tight election. Seen in this light, Corbyn’s statement seems to be an electoral ploy.
But while electoral considerations may be a factor, there is the more important issue of the ideology of the Labour Party. If one looks at the history of British politics, one will find a consistent anti-India stance taken by the Labour Party. Angered by Winston Churchill’s racist remarks, Nehru and the Congress mistakenly turned to the Labour Party and remained hostile to the Conservatives, a policy that remained in practice for some time. What Nehru did not see is that though Churchill was a racist, the real damage done to India was by the Labour Party led by then-British prime minister Clement Atlee, who was in power from 1945-51.
Ideology of the Labour Party
The Atlee government damaged India in major ways. It steered Partition under the Cabinet Mission Plan and introduced the India Independence Act which divided then British India into India and Pakistan. But most importantly Atlee laid down a policy that is still held by members of the Labour left-wing which holds that Kashmir is a dispute to be resolved under the UN resolution and they do not accept the accession of Jammu and Kashmir into India as legal and final. A senior Indian diplomat recalled a private conversation with the late influential Labour MP Gerald Kaufman, who stated his party’s views with great clarity.
‘The Kashmir issue has nothing to do with constituency pressure. It is an article of faith with the Labour Party. We believe the Kashmir issue is an imperial responsibility of ours and that it is the unfinished business of Partition.’
Coming to the present, Jeremy Corbyn’s Tweet shows the Kaufman line on J&K prevails in the Labour Party.
Conservatives & the Kashmir issue
While Labour remains committed to the Kashmir cause, the question then arises of the Conservative Party. Where do the Tories stand on J&K? Do they too have a consistent stance regarding the issue? So far it can be seen that while the Tories are not governed as much by electoral considerations as they know the Pakistani community will not vote for them, senior Indian diplomats believe that the party has seen the Kashmir issue as a ‘useful tool’ by which to keep ‘India under pressure.’ This is especially important now as India is a rising power on the world stage.’
So though various Tory governments have remained low key, they continue to tacitly encourage attacks on India by proxy i.e. they allow human rights organisations to attack India on Kashmir and separatists such as Khalistanis and pro-Pakistan Kashmiris to take out marches near Indian missions in the UK. In that sense, the Conservative Party remains anti-India, seems to believe that the Kashmir issue is a ‘dispute’, and that ‘UN mediation’ is the answer.
As the recent protest, ‘Stop Killing in Kashmir’ organised by the Tehreek-e-Kashmir, a pro-independence outfit – outside the Consulate General of India in Birmingham last week – showed that this policy has not changed. The fact that such protests will increase with a planned joint protest by Sikhs for Justice – a pro-Khalistani group and pro-Kashmiri groups outside the Indian mission on August 15 – has met with little comment or support for India from the Conservative party, save the intervention of Tory MP Bob Blackman, speaks volumes. The fact that Blackman has so far publicly been the sole strong supporter for India from all the UK politicians – at such a critically sensitive time for India – shows that neither has Britain’s imperialist attitude changed not its views on ‘Kashmir.
So however much Prime Minister Boris Johnson may try to play up his Indian heritage, the Conservative’s anti-India stance remains. It suggests that despite the politically correct words uttered in public Britain’s agenda to resolve the Kashmir issue remains, as it is in Kaufman’s words, ‘the unfinished business of Partition.’
Does it matter?
On the practical front, India should not be very concerned with Britain’s views on Kashmir. Any resolution put forward at the UN is likely to be vetoed by Russia and the US. The importance of getting the UK and other nations onside is more on Pakistan as Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan’s ‘deep state’ are under heavy pressure to show that they are remaining ‘strong’ on the Kashmir issue by highlighting it internationally. So far, this ploy has failed.
While the government has handled the fallout of Article 370 successfully there are things it must keep an eye out on the world stage namely human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who are waiting to pull India up for ‘human rights violations’ should any negative reports from the Valley emerge.
In the 1990s, Amnesty launched a vociferous campaign against India on alleged ‘human rights violations’ in Kashmir and if given a chance it is more than likely it will do the same thing again. It is also worth remembering that Amnesty, in particular, is endorsed by many Christian evangelical groups who form a key base of President Trump’s vote-bank. This is something the government will need to bear in mind as it goes forward on its mission of winning over the hearts of Kashmiris and integrating J&K with the rest of India.
The author is Opinion Editor, Strategic News International (SNI).
This article was first published on SNI.