Indian circles here have adopted a ‘wait and watch’ approach to the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has consistently supported ‘self-determination’ in Jammu and Kashmir, condemned the launch of Agni missile and highlighted alleged human rights issues in India in the past.
Besides participating in House of Commons debates on issues related to India, Corbyn has been one of the most prolific signatories or proposers of Early Day Motions on India. He has also been a supporter of legislation outlawing caste discrimination in Britain, which is one of the sensitive issues in Britain’s Hindu and Sikh communities.
Mindful of his past views, influential Indian circles here say that as party leader Corbyn is likely to temper his views on issues seen as ‘anti-India’. It was under a Labour government that Britain upgraded its relationship with India to a ‘strategic partnership’ in 2004.
Corbyn’s position on India as party leader will be clearer during Labour’s annual conference from 27 September in Brighton, but observers say that if he continued with his views, he will stand no chance of winning back Indian voters who have moved to the Conservatives in the recent past, or winning the goodwill of India.
Virendra Sharma, senior Labour MP from Ealing, Southall, is confident that there will be no change in the party’s position under Corbyn on India, which is decided in consultation with MPs and others leaders of Indian origin, among others. Seema Malhotra’s inclusion in Corbyn's shadow cabinet is seen as a welcome sign.
Corbyn opposed stopping British aid to India when the David Cameron government announced it in 2012, and also signed motions on issues such as condemning terrorist violence in India, supporting IIFA awards in Yorkshire, launch of Chadrayaan-I, India defeating Pakistan in the 2011 World Cup cricket.
A senior Indian community leader who worked with Corbyn in the campaign group Liberation said that for all his ‘hard left’ image, he was a pragmatist and not averse to striking a compromise to achieve larger goals. However, he saw the issue of his and Labour’s support to caste-based legislation in Britain as a “point of friction”.
One of the motions Corbyn proposed related to the 2002 Gujarat riots: “That this House expresses its extreme concern about reports of continued inter-communal communal violence within the Indian State of Gujarat and the allegations of state complicity in the reported massacre of Muslims; and calls upon the British Government to take appropriate action further to the conclusions drawn in the internal report of the British High Commission”.
In January 2002, Corbyn proposed a motion on Agni: “That this House condemns the launch of an Agni nuclear missile by India at dawn on 25th January; notes that the test breaches the 1963 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; criticises India's claim that such tests are necessary to ensure its own security…”.