Concerns have been raised this week over attempts by Hindu nationalists to involve themselves in the upcoming British election. While the British Indian community has traditionally voted Labour, the party’s hold on the community was substantially eroded in 2017 election, with Hindu British Indians leading the switch to the Conservatives. Now it seems that British Hindus sympathetic to India’s current ruling party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, are trying to accelerate this shift due to anger over the Labour Party position on Kashmir.The pressure group, the Overseas Friends of the BJP, has declared its intention to campaign against Labour and for the Conservatives in 48 marginal seats. Messages are also circulating on WhatsApp groups urging British Indians not to vote Labour. These messages claim that the Labour party is anti-Hindu and pro-Pakistani. While some make false claims, such as accusing London Mayor Sadiq Khan of having boycotted Diwali, many focus on the Labour Party’s position on Kashmir.

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.