UK Opposition condemns Tory candidate's Kashmir appeal to voters

The Conservative Party is yet to officially comment or respond to the controversy.
Last Updated : 18 June 2024, 19:27 IST

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London: The UK's Opposition Labour Party has condemned as "divisive" a Conservative Party candidate's letter to voters calling on them to vote for him over a British Indian Labour candidate to ensure the Kashmir issue can continue to be raised in the British Parliament.

The official campaign letter on behalf of Marco Longhi, Tory candidate for Dudley in the West Midlands region of England, which has been doing the rounds on social media started by wishing Muslims on the occasion of Eid ul-Adha. It then goes on to reference Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election for a third term and warns voters against choosing his Labour opponent, Sonia Kumar, over him.

"Recently we have seen Modi's BJP being re-elected in India. This means it will be even tougher times for the people of Kashmir in the coming months," reads the letter addressed to “Voters of the British Pakistani/Kashmiri community in Dudley”.

"Narendra Modi made it clear recently that he is going for a full statehood of Kashmir which would mean full removal of any sovereign rights of the Kashmirs and their special status. I was elected as your MP in 2019 and since my election I have been at the forefront of speaking against the Indian Government atrocities towards the people of Kashmir,” the letter continues.

It then calls on voters to make a choice in the July 4 UK general election based on: "Who will speak for Kashmir Parliament? Will it be me, or Labour Party Parliamentary Candidate Sonia KUMAR?” Kumar, whose last name is underlined for a supposed emphasis on her Indian ethnicity, responded by saying she did not believe religion or heritage came into play when representing her constituents.

“I work in our NHS [National Health Service] as a physiotherapist, helping all the people of Dudley no matter what their background is,” she said.

The Labour Indians diaspora organisation and fellow British Indian candidate Rajesh Agrawal lashed out against Longhi on X and called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to withdraw his party’s backing from him.

“Labour Indians condemn Marco Longhi’s deeply divisive tactics to divide and rule communities in Dudley for political gain,” reads a statement from Labour Indians.

It adds: “Labour Indians is a proud coalition of progressive British Indians from different religious traditions and we find Marco Longhi’s comments racist, dangerous, and wholly unacceptable in modern Britain.

“It is also deeply disheartening to see an Indian-origin leader of the Conservatives let anti-Indian racism run rife through his party… we hope for Longhi’s immediate dismissal.” Agrawal, an Indore-born entrepreneur-politician campaigning to be elected Labour MP from Leicester East, described the letter as a “shameful attempt to divide communities” and “offensive” to both Muslim and Hindu communities.

“There should be zero tolerance of the dog-whistle politics Mr Longhi is engaged in. Rishi Sunak should put country before party and immediately remove his party’s support for Mr Longhi campaign and apologise for attempting to alienate British Indians,” he said.

Sunder Katwala, Director of the British Future think tank, said the letter should be retracted and the Tory candidate suspended for his “sectarian” campaign pitch.

“The letter will surely be retracted. In my view any of the major parties should suspend a candidate for doing this. Sectarian community pitches are wrong. This particular example is further exacerbated by this conscious use of prejudice against the candidate of a rival party,” he noted.

Longhi, meanwhile, seems to be standing by his strategy and was quoted by the ‘Guido Fawkes’ political website as saying that his constituents are “concerned about issues in Kashmir”.

His predecessor as an MP for Dudley, Lord Ian Austin, termed the letter as “completely unacceptable”.

“When I was the MP for Dudley, I worked hard to fight racism and sectarian politics and to bring local people together. The people of Dudley are much better than this and I hope they reject this candidate and his nasty divisive politics,” he said in a post on X.

The Conservative Party is yet to officially comment or respond to the controversy.

Published 18 June 2024, 19:27 IST

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