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Tory MP's Letter on Kashmir Slammed For 'Divisive Politics': What Happened?

'Who will speak for Kashmir?' asked Marco Longhi in a letter targeting his Indian-origin opponent Sonia Kumar.

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"To imply that I would not stand up for all of my constituents because of my religion and heritage is unacceptable," Sonia Kumar, the Indian-origin Labour Party candidate from Britain's Dudley constituency, told The Quint in connection with a letter by her opponent and sitting Conservative MP from Dudley Marco Longhi, urging British Pakistani and Kashmiri voters to vote for him instead of Kumar allegedly due to her Indian and Hindu identity.

In the letter, which was sent out on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, Longhi asked whether Kumar would take up the issue of "India's illegal actions in Kashmir" if elected. Kumar's surname in the letter was capitalised and underlined, in an alleged attempt to highlight her ethnicity.

Longhi further said that he would consistently highlight the issue of "atrocities" by the Narendra Modi government in the Kashmir Valley if he wins from the seat in the 4 July general elections.

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"Recently we have seen (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi's BJP being re-elected in India. This means there will be even tougher times for the people of Kashmir in the coming months," the letter stated.

Longhi further added that if the Modi government restores the statehood of Kashmir, this would mean the "full removal of sovereign rights" of Kashmiris and their special status.

"Should you vote for me, I make a pledge to you that I will raise my voice for Kashmir in Parliament even more and will be at the forefront of standing up for Kashmiris in Parliament," the letter read.

'Who will speak for Kashmir?' asked Marco Longhi in a letter targeting his Indian-origin opponent Sonia Kumar.

Tory MP Marco Longhi's letter to British Pakistani and Kashmiri voters in the Dudley constituency. 

(Photo: Accessed by The Quint) 

'Unacceptable Dog-Whistle Politics' 

Longhi's letter was condemned by Kumar and several Labour leaders as being a "clear case of dog-whistle politics".

"I’m disappointed and shocked by Marco Longhi’s letter," Kumar said in an email interaction with The Quint. "I work in NHS [National Health Service] as a physiotherapist, helping all the people of Dudley no matter what their background is."

She further added that voters are tired of the "divisive politics" of the Conservative Party.

"Voters in Dudley have the chance to turn a page on 14 years of failure by voting for change with Labour on 4 July," she said.

Similarly, Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party, said that there was no place for such behaviour in the UK's political system.

"This is clearly inappropriate, divisive, dog-whistle politics from the Conservatives," she said in a statement shared with The Quint.

Dodds also urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to take action against Longhi.

"If he fails to do so, it will show his promise of professionalism and accountability to be a hollow sham."
Anneliese Dodds, chair of the Labour Party

In a show of bipartisanship, Conservative Friends of India Director Nayaz Qazi shared Dodds' sentiments by condemning Longhi's letter.

"Politics aside, in this particular matter the comments used by the Conservative MP were very unfortunate. Singling out somebody of Indian origin is just not acceptable," he said while speaking to The Quint.

Qazi also said that when the matter was brought to his attention, he escalated it by contacting the party high command. "The matter is currently under investigation, and I have been following up with headquarters as well," he said.

On the other hand, while there has been no written record of Longhi ever raising the Kashmir issue in Parliament or outside, the MP doubled down on his letter in an interview with GB News:

"This is politics, isn’t it? Do you want someone who has consistently been supportive of Kashmiris where there have been human rights abuses, or do you want someone called Sonia Kumar who no one has ever heard of?"

Meanwhile, several UK-based media reports stated that Sunak was facing pressure to publicly condemn Longhi's comments and drop him as the Conservative Party candidate from Dudley.

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Making Sense of Longhi's Letter

Longhi's letter can be seen in the light of the demographic classification of the Dudley region.

According to a census conducted in 2021, out of the total population of 3.2 lakh in Dudley, the second most prevalent religious community in the region after Christians are Muslims – comprising 6.2 percent of the population (around 20,000 people).

This is followed by 1.6 percent Sikhs (around 5,000) and 0.7 percent Hindus (around 2,200).

Also, while over 82 percent of the population identified as either white English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British, Pakistanis comprise the second largest ethnic group in the constituency with a population share of 4.6 percent (around 15,000 people).

Indians, on the other hand, comprise 2.4 percent (around 7,700 people) – half of their Pakistani counterparts.

In a country where even a few hundred votes can determine the result of the election in a particular constituency, the support of both Indians and Pakistanis in Dudley is crucial as they comprise 7 percent of the total population, or around 23,000 people.

In the 2019 general election, Longhi won the Dudley North seat with 23,134 votes and a total vote share of 63.1 percent. (In 2019 Dudley was divided between Dudley North and Dudley South. In the 2024 general elections, the constituencies have been merged to form a new seat called Dudley).

On the other hand, Longhi's opponent from the Labour Party Melanie Dudley won a total of 11,601 seats and 31.6 percent of the vote share.

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The Larger Context

While Longhi's letter may make sense in terms of electoral strategy when seen in the micro perspective of constituency-based politics, it is quite surprising in the broader perspective given the closeness between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India and the Conservative Party in the UK – which were termed as "natural allies" by Tory MP Bob Blackman in a 2023 interview.

The Overseas Friends of BJP UK (OFBJP), which champions the cause of the saffron party across the UK, has actively campaigned for Conservative candidates in the past.

Ahead of the 2019 UK elections, the OFBJP had called on the 1.4 million-strong British Indians to vote against the Labour Party over the latter's criticism of the Indian government's alleged "crackdown" in Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370 on 5 August 2019.

In September 2019, the Labour Party had passed a motion alleging that the Indian government had carried out "human rights violations" in the Kashmir Valley. Labour also stated that the people of the erstwhile state should have the right to self-determination. India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had outrightly condemned the motion, calling it an attempt to "pander to vote bank interests".

The motion had also caused outrage from several other UK-based Hindu groups, which led the Labour Party to change its position on the issue – stating that the sovereign status of Kashmir was a "bilateral matter for India and Pakistan" to resolve and that it must not divide communities in the UK.

The U-turn, however, came too late and wasn't able to quell the outrage among the country's Hindu population.

A survey following the 2019 elections, which the Tories swept with 365 seats in the 650-member House, stated that a large number of Hindu Indians in the UK shifted their support to the Conservatives from Labour – once considered the natural political preference of British Indians owing to the party's pro-immigration outlook.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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