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). However, it 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, the loss has been attributed to losing the local Indian vote. While this was in part due to a crisis involving bin collection, it was also because the local Hindu community considers the Labour party as patronising and too close to Muslims. Writing in the New Statesman, in May 2022 Kavya Kaushik noted 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 Kaushik when campaigning there, “you vote Labour in Southall but then you make money, move to Isleworth and buy a Mercedes” then you vote Tory (the author 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 retained the votes of immigrant communities even after they cease to be mostly working-class. Constituents 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.) However, they will also often make the final break from Labour when the party 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). 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 supposed failure to wholeheartedly embrace Modi’s regime is truly because it is under the influence of Pakistani politicians or that it is dependent on Muslim votes. 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). However, Labour is an anti-fascist party which prides itself on championing diversity and tolerance. Many Labour politicians and activists are horrified at the spectacle of a regime in India 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. But India was always seen as 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 consider themselves as anti-fascist are shaking his hand.
Kaushik 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.
It appears that the problem is 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 does not matter if they also deliver economic prosperity for some; if Muslim businesses are being destroyed, they are not partaking in any prosperity (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 American president Lyndon B. 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 since the South voted both for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton). Regardless of economic growth, politicians who do not distance themselves from mob violence and 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 are not benefiting from the prosperity if your shop has been burned, much as you are not seeing the benefit of improved transportation if you are 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 as such.
About the Author: Matthew Smith is a British Muslim blogger who has been monitoring the media and blogosphere’s coverage of Muslim issues since 2004. His blog can be found here.
Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.