India’s ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is currently running an anti-Labour smear campaign amongst Hindu voters in Britain. Overseas Friends of BJP in the UK are actively canvassing in 48 marginal constituencies and supporting Conservative Party candidates, as well as targeting Labour’s two Sikh MPs.
This campaign includes Islamophobic messages, propaganda spread through WhatsApp, and even political agitation in Hindu temples, with claims that the Labour Party is ‘anti-India’.
These false allegations began circulating back in India during the 2019 Labour conference, where delegates unanimously condemned human rights violations in Kashmir.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken unprecedented action by revoking Kashmir’s special semi-autonomous status, implementing martial law, shutting down the internet and all other forms of communication, and locking up elected officials who represent Kashmir. There are credible cases of harassment and torture by the Indian army, basic shortages, and a mass exodus of tourists and migrant workers from the region.
Labour’s policy was neither pro-India nor pro-Pakistan, but stands with the Kashmiri people who are clearly being oppressed.
The sham of a campaign being conducted by Modi supporters is made even more farcical by how little evidence there is to claim that the Labour Party is anti-Hindu. The only ‘evidence’ presented is the party’s solidarity with Kashmiris, along with a single local councillor in Leicester East who was upset at not being imposed as the parliamentary candidate. There is nothing else at all to suggest that the party is anti-Hindu or anti-Indian.
*INDIANS AGAINST TORY DIVISION* In the face of shameless attempts to tear apart the Indian community in this increasingly toxic election here’s our statement of unity. Signed by Indians of many faiths, communities and generations, we reject the dangerous politics of the right pic.twitter.com/DikXlHXDwS— Natasha Dhumma (@natashadhumma) November 26, 2019
Who is behind the campaign?
Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat is leading the Overseas Friends of the BJP. He states: “We have a team in each constituency which is going round with the Tory candidate leafleting, speaking to people and persuading them to vote Tory.”
Groups such as the Hindu Council, which claims to represent over 300 Hindu groups, are supposed to be non-political, given their charitable status. But they are advocating for a vote against Labour. Its President, Trupti Patel, has been filmed in temples pushing this agenda.
Most recently, the Hindu Council has written an outrageous letter supporting the Chief Rabbi’s attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. In the letter, they defend Modi’s repressive actions in Kashmir on the basis of “equality”. They then claim that “a major political party in our country which used to be a progressive socialist voice has veered towards what almost is a facist ideology”. Even the most rabid right-wing Tory would consider this statement disingenuous.
Much like the Jewish Board of Deputies with Jews in Britain, Overseas Friends of the BJP and the Hindu Council claim to ‘represent’ Hindus. Yet most British Hindus will have absolutely no idea who these people are, how they are elected, who funds them, why they were chosen, or how they represent them in any way religiously.
This colonial form of representation of religious people in the UK actually harks back to regressive reforms pushed through by Tony Blair in the New Labour years, which gave unrepresentative organisations political power.
I’m a Hindu, I’ve never heard of the Hindu Council, never had any communication from it, never heard of the bloke who runs it and no idea how he was selected. Whoever he represents, he doesn’t represent me or many other Hindus. Just another bandwagon jumper. https://t.co/1QhBxcVD76— Devutopia (@D_Raval) November 26, 2019
Interestingly, Kuldeep Shekhawat claims that Overseas Friends of the BJP is just a pressure group. But this is a very suspicious claim. A recent CNN investigation found: “The BJP's foreign affairs chief in New Delhi, Vijay Chauthaiwale, was described as the chief of the OFBJP in a post on the OFBJP UK website in March 2017.”
And in 2017, Chauthaiwale told the paper that: “We are also encouraging — and we plan to pursue this more aggressively in the months to come — the Indian diaspora to become part of [Modi's] social programs.”
Reactionary and divisive
Channel 4’s recent report on the issue also illustrated the reactionary nature of the people in these groups. A group of small petit-bourgeois business owners sat down in Leicester and spoke to the reporter. One, Vinod Popat, stated that:
“Things are being done by the Muslim community, especially with the grooming that happens up north, whenever that happens, the media report it as Asians, they never call them Pakistani’s so we Hindu’s are also classified within that group which we don’t like…it is a Muslim thing.”
In Harrow East, the Conservative MP Bob Blackman has particular form in stoking such divisions. In the 2015 general election, the Tory MP spread thousands of flyers saying that Labour would introduce anti-caste discrimination that would label every Indian’s head with their caste.
In 2017, Blackman organised an event with the National Council of Hindu Temples in Parliament, with far-right leader Tapan Ghosh of West Bengal as one of the speakers. As head of the far-right organisation Hindu Sanhati, Ghosh has called all Muslims jihadis; he has defended the persecution of Rohingya refugees; and he has met with Tommy Robinson.
In this election, the Harrow East MP has been sending around letters claiming that the Labour party has “an anti-India culture which has become entrenched within his Labour Party”.
At the heart of this campaign is an attempt by the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to equate Hinduism and Hindu rights with the BJP. Dividing people amongst religious and communal lines has become ever more important for the BJP, as the Indian government struggles to paper over the cracks of a slowing economy and a desperate shortage of jobs for a burgeoning and youthful population. The result in India is gross capitalist contradictions: there are 106 billionaires, yet hundreds of millions live in dire poverty.
The truth is that groups such as the Hindu Council of Britain are the same as the Overseas Friends of the BJP - they are both front groups for the BJP and far-right nationalists. They are political groups who do not represent Hindus, nor have they been given any mandate to.
Their farcical campaign of rabid reactionary Islamophobia, coupled with claims of the Labour Party being facist, has been all too happily lapped up by the Tories, who have always been happy to exploit and fan the flames of any division within the working class to maintain their rule.
Tories the real racists
The religious establishment have clearly closed ranks to attack Corbyn and Labour, painting the party as racist, antisemitic, and now anti-Hindu.
Yet during this very election campaign, there have actually been two Tory parliamentary candidates who have been suspended for antisemitism, as well as one in Glasgow Central for Islamophobia. Multiple Conservative councillors have been caught and removed for Islamaphobic comments.
A recent YouGov poll found strong evidence of institutional Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, with 45% of Tory members believing that the UK was not safe for non-Muslims. Two-thirds thought that parts of Britain are under Sharia law.
By comparison, credible allegations of antisemitism within the Labour Party - a party of over half a million - amount to less than 0.1% of the membership. Of course every trace of racism must be cleared from our movement. But this small fringe can hardly be described as evidence of ‘institutional’ antisemitism within the party.
It is completely disingenuous to paint Jeremy Corbyn and other Labour Party members as anti-Indian. Corbyn and other MPs like Jack Dromey (formerly a trade union organiser) have played a key role in supporting Indian workers’ rights, such as through the Grunwick strike in the 1970s.
The rights that have been won by Asian and black minorities in this country have been won through the struggles of the labour movement. This is why these groups have tended to vote overwhelmingly for the Labour Party, as political expression of the working class in Parliament.
The Tories, on the other hand, have pandered to both overt and dog-whistle racist attacks. Former Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, was typical of this, claiming that Asians couldn’t be loyal to Britain because “a large proportion of Britain’s Asian population fail to pass the cricket test...Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?”
History of racism
These attacks are even more ironic, given that Labour is leading the charge against the ‘hostile environment’ created by the Conservatives; is calling to bring in teaching about the history of the British Empire and colonialism; and is demanding an official apology for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) massacre.
The Conservatives have consistently stated that they will not apologise for the Amritsar massacre. Most Tories - look no further than Jacob Rees-Mogg - unashamedly bask in the bloody glory of the Empire. And Boris Johnson, who wrote an entire book praising Churchill, conveniently forgot to mention that his hero blamed Indians for the Bengal famine, as a result of “breeding like rabbits”.
Divisive targeting of Indian-origin Labour MPs is also not likely to go down well with most British Indians. Labour MP Tan Dhesi is one of those being targeted - the first turban wearing MP in the House of Commons. He recently went viral for condemning the Prime Minister’s racist attacks on Muslim women, which he related to his own personal experiences of being called a ‘towel head’ when growing up in Britain. His speech was brilliant for explaining that there is no hierarchy of religious oppression. An injury to one is an injury to all.
Workers of all creeds: unite!
Despite all the media spin and slander, Labour must not pander to these unelected and unaccountable ‘religious representatives’. We must call them out for what they are: reactionary stooges of Narendra Modi’s right-wing government, who are attempting to export the most divisive and poisonous hatred of the sub-continent to the South Asian diaspora in Britain.
The Hindu Council, Chief Rabbi, and Archbishop of Canterbury: all these reactionary religious leaders have united behind the Tories in this election, in defence of the capitalist establishment. In doing so, they have shown who they really ‘represent’ - not ordinary Hindus, Jews, or Christians, but the corrupt elite.
The truth is that only a Labour government will stand up for ordinary people of every ethnicity or religious background. And only a clear socialist programme can solve the problems facing workers of all creeds and countries.
Workers of the world: unite! Vote for Corbyn! Fight for socialism!