Kashmir, an area both India and Pakistan lay claim to, but that is held by the former, has long been an inflammatory political issue. It has sparked wars between India and Pakistan and came perilously close to doing so again in February this year. While war was avoided, the patriotic fervour aroused in India played a key role in Narendra Modi’s BJP unexpectedly winning a resounding majority in India’s May elections this year. Buoyed by the victory, Modi subsequently took the radical decision in August to revoke Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status. In a series of moves designed to crush any protest the Indian government has also flooded the region with troops, imposed a curfew, shut down telecommunications and the internet, and arrested hundreds without trial including Kashmiri political leaders.
At the Labour Party conference this September an emergency motion strongly condemning India’s actions in Kashmir and accusing it of human rights abuses was passed overwhelmingly. The motion sparked immediate backlash amongst British Indians. Attempts to walk-back on the motion, Corbyn saying the motion’s language was stronger than he would have liked and Labour subsequently clarifying it was “opposed to external interference” in the region, seems to have done little to repair the damage.
However, behind this lies a longer story of Labour’s weakening grip on British Indian voters, and in particular British Hindus. In 2009, David Miliband also sparked furore over an editorial he penned on Kashmir for The Hindu while visiting the country as Foreign Secretary. Furthermore, as British Indians, particularly Hindus, have become one of the most economically successful minority groups in the country, their sympathies have unsurprisingly begun to tilt Conservative. Already in 2010 there was evidence middle class Hindus were more likely to vote Conservative than other middle-class minorities.