Concerns that Labour could abandon its support for self-determination and human rights for Kashmir have been confirmed with the launch of its general election manifesto.
Despite a clear mandate from its September conference, party chairman Ian Lavery suggested in the early days of the election campaign that Labour would not call for Kashmiri self-determination, instead conceding that the territory’s future ought to be a matter for the Indian and Pakistani states alone.
The conference motion acknowledged the violations of human rights at the hands of the Indian Armed Forces, notably forced disappearances and violence, including sexual violence, against civilians. It called on Labour to demand that the Indian government cease its communication blackout, lift its curfews, and allow international aid organisations and human rights observers into the region. It also called on the party to demand that the Kashmiris democratic right to self-determination be respected, in line with international law and multiple UN resolutions.
In line with the party’s earlier statements, the content of the conference motion has been omitted from the general election manifesto, which only makes one passing reference to Kashmir.
This motion, which passed with a large majority, sparked a backlash from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its supporters in Britain. An anti-Labour campaign headed by the Overseas Friends of BJP and the National Council of Hindu Temples began, with both organisations encouraging British Indians to vote Conservative, and demanding Hindu temples withdraw invitations for Labour politicians to speak. It propagated claims that anti-Hindu prejudice was endemic in the Labour Party.
The claims of these organisations could easily be disproven. For instance, their assertion that Labour has selected only one parliamentary candidate of Indian background to stand in winnable seats, is plainly untrue. More importantly, their description of any criticism of the Indian state as ‘anti-Hindu’ or ‘anti-Indian’ betrays the reality that large parts of the diaspora – not least religious and national minorities, victims of caste oppression, and progressives and socialists – oppose the BJP government equally themselves.
At the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, supporters of the attacks on Kashmir’s autonomy attempted to shut down a conference organised by the South Asia Solidarity group by interrupting a panel discussion and setting off the fire alarms, forcing attendees to temporarily leave the building.
Sadly, Labour responded to these attacks in a similar manner to which it has responded to the right-wing attacks on its support for Palestinian rights – with total capitulation. In direct contradiction to the conference motion, the party issued a ‘clarification’ that Labour would not be calling for the entry of international observers and would not adopt the call for Kashmiri self-determination as party policy.
By removing the motion’s moderate proposals, the party’s call for the Indian and Pakistani states to respect the human rights of Kashmiris is completely empty. Without the concrete demands set out in the conference motion, Labour proposes no mechanisms by which the rights of Kashmiris is to be defended by two states which have shown no desire to protect them since their founding over 70 years ago.
Despite Lavery’s claims, no evidence suggests that Labour’s conference motion would have cost the party votes in next month’s election. Many British-Indians of all religions sympathise with the Kashmiri cause, and when asked, almost all said that their vote would not be influenced by either party’s policy on Kashmir. On the contrary, support for Kashmir is precisely the kind of international solidarity which helped Jeremy Corbyn mobilise such large levels of support when he first contested the Labour Party’s leadership in 2015.
Labour’s capitulation to a campaign waged by a thoroughly reactionary bourgeois party is a reminder to its members that the struggle to make Labour a more internationalist and a more democratic party is far from over. Our international policies should not be determined by senior party figures based on electoral (mis)calculations, but by democratic structures like the party conference, judged by the principles of socialist internationalism and the worldwide struggle for working class power and socialism.
Since the conference motion passed in September following the Indian government’s removal of the state’s autonomy, the repression in Kashmir has only escalated. Telephone and internet services remain suspended, the political leadership (including pro-India and moderate figures) has not been released from prison and house arrest, and curfews remain in place throughout the territory.
More recently, the process of partitioning the state into a Hindu-plurality Jammu and Kashmir, and a Buddhist-majority Ladakh has been completed. The occupying forces have implemented a shutdown of shops and businesses, as well as public transport services in the Kashmir Valley, where most of the state’s major cities can be found. The end of a ban on the purchase of Kashmiri land by Indian landlords is the central axis of a policy of demographic change which is expected to begin in earnest in the coming months.
The Indian Armed Forces argue that the measures in the territory are necessary to combat an armed insurgency in Kashmir, yet its own figures state that only around 200 militants are active in the state. Rather, it is a mass democratic movement amongst civil society that the government’s actions are aimed at, which could threaten its ambition to build a Hindu nation-state, or ‘rashtra’.
To this end, the BJP’s rule of the country has been characterised by attacks on national and religious minorities. As well as the repression in Kashmir, the government has amended its citizenship laws to remove citizenship from millions in the Northeastern state of Assam, many of whom have lived in the country since before independence.
The resistance against the Indian state’s repression is part of the global wave of popular, and often working class led mobilisation against the governments of Chile, Ecuador, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and the illegal military-backed regime in Bolivia. Labour has done little to acknowledge these uprisings so far, but a declaration of support could improve the party’s internationalist credentials, and improve morale amongst its supporters, many of whom joined the party since 2015 impressed by Jeremy Corbyn’s record on human rights.
Should Corbyn succeed in leading a Labour government, it is those mobilising across the world now that we can expect solidarity from once the ruling class attempts to undermine it, not right-wing governments like that of the BJP. It is precisely this that Labour should keep in mind when it picks its allies in places like Kashmir.
Labour cannot claim to be in solidarity with the people of Kashmir if it grants their Pakistani and Indian jailers the right to determine their future.
Red Flag will continue fighting to restore the democratic decision of the members on this question and the many others in which the leadership has allowed electoral opportunism and relations with hostile bourgeois forces to trump party democracy and international solidarity.