A heated debate in the House of Commons on Thursday on Jammu and Kashmir saw several British MPs uphold India’s position, with one MP questioning whether it was right for the house to hold such a debate, citing a hypothetical situation of the Lok Sabha debating Scotland.
Barry Gardiner, Labour MP from Brent North – a constituency with a large minority of people of Indian origin – said: “In exactly a week’s time, the people of Scotland will go to the polls in a referendum to decide the future of our country”.
“The debate has been hotly contested and not without its ill temper; but imagine the outrage on both sides of that debate if the Indian Parliament, the Lok Sabha, were today debating the merits or demerits of Scottish independence and passing judgement upon what we in the United Kingdom see as a matter for us, and us alone, to decide,” he said.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman called for Pakistan security forces to vacate Pak-Occupied Kashmir, while others highlighted the plight of Kashmiri Pandits driven out of their homeland, and the incidents of terrorism and infiltration emanating from across the border.
Blackman said: “Far from wanting secession, either to Pakistan or as a separate state, the vast majority of people in the state (Jammu & Kashmir) want it to remain part of India. I have a solution to the problem, which is that the Pakistani forces illegally occupying part of Kashmir should leave and unite Jammu and Kashmir as one state under the auspices of India, and then it should be decided what is to happen”.
The debate saw the British government reiterate its known position that “It is not for the UK to prescribe a solution or to mediate in finding one”.
Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said he agreed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent statement that any meaningful dialogue between India and Pakistan ‘necessarily requires an environment that is free from terrorism and violence’.
Ellwood said: “The long-standing position of the UK is that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting resolution to the situation in Kashmir, one which takes into account…the wishes of the Kashmiri people”.
This was the second debate on Jammu & Kashmir in the House of Commons in three years.
Unlike the debate in September 2011, which evoked much concern in official Indian circles, this time the response was less evocative, which partly reflected a globally more confident India’s reset world-view that focusses more on countries such as Russia, Japan and the United States.
To suggestions by some MPs that Britain had a role to play in Jammu & Kashmir, Conservative MP Gregory Barker said: “Given Britain’s legacy in India, I have to say that I find the assumption—presumption, rather—that we somehow have a role to play slightly offensive”.
He added: “It smacks of neo-imperialism, it is arrogant and we should respect the extraordinary achievements of India since 1947. Britain would have a role to play only if and when our advice or assistance were sought. Clearly, in this case, it is not”.
Of ther 18 MPs who participated in the debate, two were of Indian origin: Paul Uppal (Conservative) and Virendra Sharma (Labour). The debate was secured by David Ward, Liberal Democrats MP from Bradford East, a constituency with a large minority of Pakistan origin.