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Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader puts India, UK Indians in fix

Britain’s 1.5 million-strong Indian community - traditionally a strong Labour “vote bank” - has largely moved away to the Conservatives in recent elections, but there are few signs the party will regain its trust after Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as leader.

world Updated: Oct 06, 2016 17:09 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reacts after the announcement of his victory in the party's leadership election in Liverpool on September 24, 2016.
The leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, reacts after the announcement of his victory in the party's leadership election in Liverpool on September 24, 2016. (Reuters)

Britain’s 1.5 million-strong Indian community - traditionally a strong Labour “vote bank” - has largely moved away to the Conservatives in recent elections, but there are few signs the party will regain its trust after Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as leader.

Not only leaders and party members of Indian or Asian origin, but several Labour MPs were uneasy after Corbyn was declared elected on September 24 with more support than he received in September 2015, and he reaffirmed his socialist plans for the party.

After the re-election and despite the uneasiness, Corbyn leading Labour to victory in the 2020 elections is no longer seen as an impossibility, given the reality of Britain under the Conservatives and the growing appeal of his socialist plans.

“The Indian community in Britain is in limbo after Labour was hijacked by left and ultra-left wing elements,” Anasudhin Azeez, the Kerala-origin editor of Manchester-based publication “Asian Lite”, told Hindustan Times.

Besides Labour’s left orientation under Corbyn, a large section of the aspirational Indian community is uneasy with his support to groups seeking to introduce caste-based discrimination in British law - an issue that has already divided the community.

The community feels there are fewer prospects of Labour returning to the agenda of combining economic credibility with a strong commitment to social justice, which won it three successive elections under Tony Blair.

“Way before Jeremy became leader, many felt that Labour no longer represents their values. At the grassroots level, the party sometimes seemed to be reaching out to the Muslim, largely Pakistani, community to such an extent that if you were Indian and Hindu, you felt shunned,” said Manoj Ladwa, chair of the Indians for Labour group.

“Since his victory, however, Corbyn has said he wants to reach out to his opponents...That gives me cause for hope. But I do know that if he is sincere about reaching out, he could show it by starting with our community.”

While some see a parallel between Corbyn’s return with more support and the support that swept Narendra Modi to power in May 2014, Corbyn’s leadership is also seen as a challenge to India, given that his approach towards the country has historically been forged mainly through the prism of human rights.

He often raised alleged rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab and the 2002 Gujarat riots in Parliament, and condemned the launch of the Agni missile in a parliamentary motion, but also opposed Britain stopping aid to India.

Jasdev Singh Rai, who once worked with Corbyn in campaign group Liberation, said: “Labour party will not be the same again. Either some of the leading rebels will leave Labour or fall in line. These are politicians who matured in the Blair era. They were generally pragmatic and took a diplomatic approach to world affairs, including South Asia.

“But Corbyn is different. He is driven by idealism. Labour under Corbyn will be an uphill battle for India. Personal experiences can often influence political policies. To date India’s relationship with Corbyn is not one that can be called ‘special’. Corbyn raised human rights issues when (Prime Minister) Modi visited the UK. Indian diplomats have their work cut out.”

Well versed with Indian realities, Corbyn, who has visited India several times, said during a House of Commons debate: “It cannot be right that a country with India’s aspirations to modernity and to taking its place in the world, including a permanent place on the UN Security Council - a country that is obviously a major power in every aspect - can allow such (caste) discrimination to continue.”

In 2013, he was awarded the Gandhi International Peace Prize by UK-based Gandhi Foundation for consistently upholding Gandhian values in his parliamentary career.