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Letter to Keir Starmer: Don’t Align Labour with Modi’s Regime

Over 600 Labour members and supporters sign an open letter to Labour leader Keir Starmer criticising his engagement with the pro-BJP diaspora groups over questions of Indian politics and Kashmir.

Dear Keir,

We are deeply concerned that you are attempting to improve the Labour Party’s relationship with the Indian diaspora by reaching out to the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB), an organisation closely aligned with Narendra Modi’s far-right and Hindu supremacist government.

Allying yourself with the HFB suggests that you are condoning the human rights abuses committed by Indian government and endorsing the policies which have brought it into international notoriety and highlighted Modi’s position among far-right leaders globally.

In the last year alone these policies have included:

The revocation of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution which represented Kashmir’s limited autonomy. 

This is an act of colonialism by the BJP government against a nation which has been denied its historic right to self-determination, first by the British colonialists who were responsible for Partition in 1947. Kashmir has faced decades of occupation by the Indian army and human rights abuses, and has been followed by brutal lockdowns, curfews and increased repression in a region which has long been the most highly militarised in the world. 

Imposition of exclusionary and Islamophobic Citizenship Laws and processes

The Citizenship (Amendment) Act which was passed in December 2019 and the National Register of Citizens and National Population Register would lead to the disenfranchisement of millions of Muslims across India and are widely seen as a step towards ethnic cleansing.

Contrary to their assertions in their letters to you, the HFB does not represent the entirety of the Indian diaspora in the UK. Many Labour Party members who are part of this diaspora have actively condemned not only these human rights abuses but also the lynchings of Muslims, Dalits and other minorities by mobs affiliated to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), which is a fascist organisation modelled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts and is the parent organisation of the BJP. These mob attacks have been rampant since Modi’s initial rise to power in 2014.

To attempt to rebuild ties with the ‘Indian community’ in the UK by reaching out to far-right sympathising organisations such as HFB is to ignore us and suggest that the Labour Party will from now on be more concerned with maintaining the support of far-right groups within the Indian diaspora than with sticking to the Labour internationalist principle of condemning international human rights abuses.

Most tellingly, the HFB letter describes the points it raises as ‘issues of concern to the Hindu/Indian community’, implicitly denying the existence of hundreds of thousands of non-Hindu Indians in the UK (Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and people of no faith) including many that are outspokenly against the atrocities committed by the Modi regime.

The issues raised in the first HFB letter to you are: 

Firstly, the caste discrimination legislation – a law which Dalit organisations have campaigned for since 2000 in response to the caste discrimination and abuse which is rife among the Indian diaspora in the UK. The law was effectively passed with the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013 imposing a ‘duty’ on the government to make caste an aspect of race in the Equality Act of 2010, but has since been scuppered by the Tories in response to pressure from the HFB and other Hindu Right organisations.

HFB describes it as ‘a corrupt piece of legislation that targets the Hindu community.’ This evokes the Hindu-right argument that caste discrimination is a colonial myth created by the British to undermine Hinduism. It ignores the well-known and widely documented reality that Indian society is itself stratified according to caste and atrocities against oppressed castes are not only widespread but according to the government’s own figures have increased under the Modi government.

The second issue raised in the HFB letter is Labour’s policy on Kashmir, passed by the Labour Party Conference, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The letter claims Corbyn’s supporting a motion to bring the issue of the siege on Jammu and Kashmir to the United Nations represents his ‘Anti-India stance’. This is an attempt to silence condemnation of the revocation of Article 370 as a human rights issue, despite the UN repeatedly raising concerns about the Kashmir situation. To reposition the Labour Party approach in this context would also be disrespectful of Labour Party procedure.  

Finally, the HFB letter mentions ‘Hinduphobia’ and draws parallels between this and antisemitism. This is deeply worrying given that this idea has been propagated by the BJP and their supporters in India to shut down dissent and criticism of their fascistic measures. The letter compares this ‘Hinduphobia’ to antisemitism, urging the party not to ‘make the same error’ as they did with the Jewish community in allowing ‘racist elements within its own rank unfettered access to megaphone their prejudice.’

The only ‘evidence’ provided of this Hinduphobia is, absurdly, the caste legislation and the Kashmir motion. The terms ‘Hinduphobia’ and ‘anti-Hindu’ have, in fact, been fabricated and used to justify Islamophobia and repression by the Hindu right in India – particularly through orchestrated social media trolling campaigns – and clearly do not have traction in a Hindu majority country ruled by a Hindu majoritarian regime. This portrayal of Labour as ‘anti-Hindu’ and the entirely false equivalence with antisemitism has previously been suggested by the UK Hindu Council and reads as trivialising of the very real historical and contemporary issue of antisemitism.

Moreover, the HFB’s use of this rhetoric is emblematic of the close links between the Hindu Forum and the BJP itself, which regularly brands its critics ‘anti-national’– most recently the Chair of the Delhi government’s own Minorities Commission was charged with sedition and ‘promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion’ for saying that Muslims in India were being persecuted. As explored above, the letter also exemplifies how the notion of Hindu-phobia is used to deny the existence of, and silence protest against, caste-based discrimination in the UK.

In a second letter to you the HFB make a further disturbing claim that, in their own words, ‘Pakistan Occupied Kashmir was and is an integral part of India, of that there is no doubt’. Not only is this an act of war-mongering against Pakistan, which like India is a nuclear armed state, it is an assertion of the idea of Akhand Bharat or undivided India, which will include Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka and is one of the key expansionist aims of the RSS.  

We understand that you also recently met with the executive team of Labour Friends of India (LFIN), in a similar vein of rebuilding trust within the Indian community. Rajesh Agrawal, current Chair of LFIN and Deputy Mayor of London, is a staunch sympathiser with the RSS, and attends official events of its UK wing, HSS-UK. He has been pictured attending an event with Manoj Ladwa, a member of the HSS and former Communications Director for the 2014 ‘Narendra Modi for Prime Minister’ campaign. (Notably, Ladwa is also a founder member and first President of the National Hindu Students Forum UK further demonstrating the close links between many UK-based Hindu-right organisations and their counterparts in India.) 

Please acknowledge our concerns about your relationship with the HFB and other Hindu-Right organisations. We urge you to represent the majority within the Indian diaspora who do not align themselves with the ongoing fascism of the Modi regime and their allies in Britain.

Kind regards,

South Asia Solidarity Group

Including Leah Levane, Hastings & Rye CLP, District Cllr & Chair of Labour Group;  Vicky Guedalla, Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP,  Delegate to GC and LCF; Akhtar Khan, Race Hate Monitoring Grp UK, Branch Treasurer Nuneaton CLP; Ananya Wilson-Bhattacharya, Red Pepper magazine, Holborn &St Pancras CLP; Kathryn Johnson, Branch Chair  Hackney North & Stoke Newington CLP; Nirmala Rajasingham, South Asia Solidarity Group, Harrow East CLP; Kevin Ramage , Bristol West CLP, E.C. Member; Kulsoom Jafri, Branch Secy Bristol West CLP;  Will Gee, FBU and UNITE, Branch Secy Harrow West CLP; Cath Peach, Branch Secy NE Leeds; Ian Ferrie, GMB delegate to EC Hampstead & Kilburn CLP; Katharine Bligh, EC member, Branch Secy Hampstead & Kilburn CLP.

and over 600 Labour members and supporters.

[email protected]

About the Author

The South Asia Solidarity Group (SASG) is an anti-imperialist, anti-racist organisation based in Britain. It is committed to supporting, publicising, and building solidarity with people’s struggles for justice and democracy and against exploitation, gender and caste based oppression, imperialism, war and the so-called ‘war on terror’ in the countries of South Asia.