Labour facing more Indian anger inside, outside party
Labour’s traditional support within the 1.5 million strong Indian community in the UK appeared set to dwindle after it faced serious questions from within the party over candidate selection and continuing anger outside over its stand on Jammu and Kashmir.
The last 24 hours saw a fusillade of criticism from Labour members in Leicester, where the party leadership nominated Claudia Webbe in the safe seat of Leicester East, where the community expected another Indian-origin candidate to replace the outgoing MP, Keith Vaz.
Claims of leading aspirants such as Sundip Meghani, Kailash Chand and Navin Shah were ignored in the constituency with a large population of Indian origin, who voted for Vaz eight times since 1987. He stepped down this week in the context of a drugs-sex row.
In London, the Labour Friends of India, a prominent lobby group within the party, expressed its dismay over candidate selection and warned the leadership not to take the support of the Indian community for granted.
“We express regret that the Labour party has selected just one candidate of Indian heritage in 39 safe seats, and no Indian heritage candidate in 100 target seats…Despite shortlisting or selecting candidates in areas with a large Indian community such as Leicester, Ealing, Ilford, West Bromwich and Derby, no Indian-heritage candidates were selected”, the group said.
“There is a risk this failure to increase representation of Indians in parliament could hit Labour further…The Labour party must ensure it is never seen to take the support of the Indian community for granted”, it added.
Labour has been grappling with strong protest from large sections of the community over its recent resolution on Jammu and Kashmir, which is widely seen as anti-India. Attempts by party leader Jeremy Corbyn and chairman Ian Lavery to assuage feelings have had limited impact, given that the resolution seeking foreign intervention has not been scrapped.
Nominating Webbe in Leicester East has attracted much criticism in Indian circles, apart from the leading aspirants. The claim of Rajesh Agarwal, deputy mayor of London, was also ignored in the Ealing North seat, which has been a Labour stronghold.
Navin Shah, member of the London Assembly, said: “Having applied for the seat myself & from my past experiences true to say @UKLabour has perfected stitch up and lack of transparency to a fine art. Enough is enough”.
Sundip Meghani, a strong candidate for the Leicester East nomination, flayed the leadership: “I cannot stay silent on the obvious dodgy practices and nepotism involved in this process…This type of conduct, where a well-connected favourite is nodded through, is no better than the Etonian old boys’ network that Labour seeks to condemn”.
“Worst of all, it is a slap in the face for the Indian community in Leicester and across Britain, to not only impose a non-Indian heritage candidate – in a seat with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country – but also a candidate who chaired Labour’s National Conference last year when it passed an appalling anti-India motion”.
“It sends entirely the wrong message and is an insult to the people I come from. It shows just how little the Labour Party values and respects the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs. Any other decent candidate would have been suitable – it didn’t necessarily have to be me”.
“But by selecting such an inappropriate candidate for Leicester East, Labour has chosen to rub salt into the wound it has created amongst British Indians. Labour is taking the Indian vote for granted and I condemn this crooked outcome,” he added.
In recent letters on the issue, Corbyn and Lavery have confined themselves to admitting that the wording of the resolution could have been misinterpreted, but their words also sought to ensure that they do not ruffle constituents of Pakistan origin.
Caught in the compulsion to keep both sides happy before the election, the Labour leadership has kept the emergency Kashmir resolution on the table to the satisfaction of its promoters, while Corbyn and Lavery wrote feel-good letters to the Indian community without budging on the basics of its perspective on Jammu and Kashmir.