In his first direct reference to "Hinduphobia," Keir Starmer, Britain's Opposition Labour Party leader, expressed solidarity with the Indian community and committed himself to fight hate crimes and "divisive politics" in the country.
This comes in the backdrop of communal clashes in Leicester and Birmingham following a cricket match between India and Pakistan, which, as per several diaspora organisations, reflected "Hinduphobia" or hate crimes targeted against Hindus, sparked by misinformation on social media.
Starmer, while addressing Europe's largest Navratri celebrations at London's India Gardens on Wednesday, 5 October, pledged support to the Hindu community in the presence of hundreds of British-Indians.
What Did Starmer Say?
"Hinduphobia has absolutely no place in our society anywhere and we must all fight this together," the Labour leader said amid loud cheers from the crowd.
"I know that many people are targeted based on their religion and there's been a rise in hate crimes in recent years. I'm so tired of our divisive politics. I'm saddened by the division we have seen on the streets of Leicester and Birmingham in recent weeks; violence and hatred spread by extremists exploiting social media. We must all together stand firm against all attempts to spread hate."Keir Starmer
Starmer also slammed the far-right for trying to "exploit grievances," and promoted inclusivity by saying that all religions, places, and symbols of worship must be respected.
"A Labour government will bring people back together and end this divisive politics," he said, citing the Indian epic Ramayana to highlight the need to fight socio-political evils in society.
"I'm particularly honoured to join you on Vijayadashami celebrations. The fires that burn effigies of Ravana all over the world serve as a reminder of our need to extinguish the evil that’s facing our society the need to defeat poverty, injustice, hate and to attack our own shadows and bad habits," Starmer added, as per PTI.
Further, he thanked the Hindu community for their contributions to the country and said that they are and will always remain an integral part of Britain.
"I want to take this opportunity to thank the Hindu community for your contribution to Britain, for everything you do for us, whether its culture, business, the financial sector, the NHS, supporting your community through the cost of living. Your contribution to Britain is huge," he said.
Strategic Importance of Starmer's Comments
Starmer's comments come in an alleged move to pander to the Indian, and more prominently the Hindu diaspora in Britain to reverse his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn's stance, which was considered to be less friendly towards India.
Starmer has been attempting to boost the Labour Party's image among the Indian community, which was considerably dented during Corbyn's tenure as Labour Party chief from 2015-2020, due to the latter's views on a number of issues, including the sovereign status of Jammu and Kashmir.
In September 2019, the Labour Party had passed an emergency motion on J&K, seeking international observers to "enter" the region and demand the right of self-determination for Kashmiris.
The move, which came days after the Indian government revoked the special status of J&K through the revocation of Article 370, drew flak from several prominent representatives of the Indian community, who described the motion as being "ill-conceived" and "misinformed."
As many as 100 British-Indian professionals had written a letter to Corbyn, accusing him of bringing a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan into the UK's domestic sphere.
The signatories included members of the Indian Professionals Forum (IPF), Indian National Students Association (INSA), Hindu Council UK and various temple bodies.
What further explains Labour's change of stance is the fact that Indians make up the largest diaspora community in the UK, and are electorally significant in dozens of constituencies, especially swing seats.
A survey called 'Britain’s New Swing Voters? A Survey of British Indian Attitudes', released in November last year, stated that while most British-Indians traditionally identify with the Labour Party, data suggested that they had become less left-leaning in recent years.
The vocal opinions of Corbyn since 2015 are sure to have influenced Indians in this regard.
Thus, Starmer's aim is to bring back members of the Indian diaspora, who had drifted away from the party, into Labour's fold ahead of the next general election, which is due to be held in 2024-25.
His comments are also seen as an effort to capitalise on the recent surge in support for the Labour Party amid declining popularity of the Liz Truss-led Tory government over the ongoing economic turmoil and unpopular financial decisions taken by the Cabinet.
Addressing the Indian community on Wednesday, Starmer took aim at the Conservatives for the alleged economic mismanagement, and said that Labour would form a government after "12 long years" on behalf of the people.
(With inputs from PTI.)