Should Labour be chasing Hindu fascist votes?

A scan of a mail shot from the 2016 London mayoral election. It shows Zac Goldsmith shaking hands with Narendra Modi, next to Sadiq Khan next to Jeremy Corbyn. It boasts of Goldsmith's friendliness with the Indian Hindu community and with India, while mentioning that Sadiq Khan opposes Modi and that Labour "supports a wealth tax on family jewellery".
A mail shot from the 2016 mayoral election by the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, appealing to Hindu fears about a Muslim Labour mayor. Source: Siraj Datoo.

How Labour Lost the Indian Vote (from the New Statesman website; you can read a limited number of articles free)

In the most recent local elections in the UK, Labour gained a couple of flagship councils from the Tories, including Wandsworth which had been in Tory hands since the 1970s (including through the Blair years), but lost two councils it had held for some years to the Tories, namely Croydon in the south and Harrow in the north-west. In Croydon the Labour council has had to make major public service cuts as a result of a financial crisis; in Harrow, it has been put down to losing the local Indian vote partly because of a crisis involving bin collection, but also because the local Hindu community regards the Labour party as patronising and too close to Muslims. The author, Kavya Kaushik, says that the party loses Asian votes once Asians become wealthier, both in Harrow and in other areas with a large Asian vote such as Southall (as one constituent told him when campaigning there, “you vote Labour in Southall but then you make money, move to Isleworth and buy a Mercedes” and vote Tory. He calls Pinner “Harrow’s Isleworth”, popular with Harrow Hindus who have “made it”, but Isleworth is in a different borough to Southall.

Often, Labour has kept the votes of immigrant communities after they cease to be mostly working-class; people remember that the Tories did not welcome them when they arrived, although East African Asians were an exception (they arrived in 1972, under Ted Heath’s government) and were always associated with small business rather than working-class Asian occupations such as textile work. They will often finally break with Labour when Labour embraces a cause they are hostile to: with the Jews it was Ed Miliband’s pro-Palestinian noises during the Coalition years. With Hindus it is the fact that Labour, as an anti-fascist and pro-democratic party, has not warmly embraced the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, whose mob fascist movement has presided over an increasingly violent and discriminatory regime in India. Kaushik in her article claims that when ‘radicalised’ Hindus look at Labour’s south Asian politicians, they do not see politicians who look like them; rather they see Pakistanis such as Sadiq Khan and Rosena Allin-Khan (who is actually half Polish), and Hindu satellite TV has “placed radical Hindu commentators in Harrow living rooms, evangelising about the horrors of Pakistan in digestible chunks for the diaspora”.

I question whether Labour’s failure to quite wholeheartedly embrace Modi’s regime is really just because it’s under the influence of Pakistani politicians or that it’s dependent on Muslim votes, however. There actually have been Labour politicians who have cosied up to Modi (like Keith Vaz) and have congratulated him on election victories (like Barry Gardiner). Labour is an anti-fascist party which prides itself on championing diversity and tolerance and many Labour politicians and activists are horrified at the spectacle of a regime with obvious echoes of both Nazi Germany and Jim Crow-era America, with mobs that terrorise a minority, raping and murdering with impunity, emerging in a country that prides itself on its secularism and tolerance. Many people regarded Pakistan as the horror story, with its history of military dictatorships and blasphemy laws which were used against impoverished members of religious minorities, particularly Christians. India was always a democracy, despite occasional ‘blips’ such as the mob destruction of the Ayodhya mosque. Both Hitler and Mussolini were also noted for economic and industrial progress, but neither are associated with those things today. Hitler is remembered not for the motorways he built but for the war he started and the millions he murdered. Modi, unlike Hitler, is not dead but still in power and still has politicians who think of themselves as anti-fascist shaking his hand.

Kaushik also observes that a lot of middle-class Hindus don’t like being asked to sort their rubbish like everyone else in London. That sort of job is done by low-caste people back home. Well, as we Muslims are always being told, “when in Rome, you do as the Romans do” and if Rome can’t afford to dump all its rubbish in landfill sites anymore, as London can’t, you jolly well sort your rubbish like they do. Most of us, Muslims and others, don’t much like the fact that we can’t just throw things out anymore but putting bottles and cans in separate piles really isn’t that much of a chore for those of us who have never had maids to do those sorts of things for us.

She quotes an anonymous Labour activist, whom she identifies as anti-BJP, as saying:

“Labour comes across as anti-India. They only focus on our problems and we already know our problems. They treat us as a poor third-world nation and patronisingly tell us what’s wrong with our country like we haven’t noticed. Shedding light on human rights abuses is necessary, but that’s all they ever do. They never talk about India in any other context. They haven’t even recognised our economic growth. The Conservatives do, and treat us as equals, as friends. The Conservatives celebrate India. The Labour party just tells us what the government’s done wrong.”

The problem is that it appears that a lot of Britain’s Hindu community does not regard what has happened in India as being wrong at all; they actively support it. Most of us are aware that there are areas of India not under BJP control and where fascism has not taken control, but the human rights abuses referred to are often not just the work of the state (as in Kashmir, where people were shot in the face and blinded for taking part in demonstrations, or for merely showing their face, and where the Internet was cut off for months at a time to stop people drawing attention to abuses), but of mobs connected to the ruling party. It is not a dictatorship, where a ruling elite oppresses the masses, but a country where the Hindu majority oppresses and increasingly persecutes the Muslim minority and where that majority keeps returning oppressors to power. It doesn’t matter if they also deliver economic prosperity, for some; if Muslim businesses are being destroyed, they are not sharing in it. (Modi’s economic record is also mixed, to say the least; have we forgotten his decision to abolish high-denomination banknotes?)

A party that stands against oppression will lose the votes of people who support that oppression. Fascists do not vote for anti-fascists and racists do not vote for anti-racists. When Lyndon Johnson’s administration passed civil rights laws in the 1960s, Johnson remarked that his party had lost the South for a generation (though that loss was slow in coming; the South voted both for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton). Regardless of economic growth, politicians that do not distance themselves from mob violence and who support discrimination against religious minorities should not be embraced by anyone who would not support such policies at home or on the same continent. “Modi brought economic prosperity” should be treated with the same contempt as “Hitler built motorways” and “Mussolini made the trains run on time”; you aren’t benefiting from the prosperity if your shop has been burned, much as you aren’t seeing the benefit of improved transportation if you’re being transported in a cattle truck to the death camps. If Labour cannot stomach Jeremy Corbyn, it should retch at the thought of shaking hands with Modi or any of his goons and cronies and should have the courage to tell his British supporters that.

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