LONDON: Labour Friends of India (LFIN), the representative diaspora group of the UK's Opposition Labour Party, on Wednesday issued a sharp rebuke of its party's failure to select enough Indian-origin candidates to contest the December 12 General Election.
The outfit, which lobbies for closer ties between the party and India as well as its diaspora in the UK, acknowledged that relations between the Indian community and Labour have been "strained" over its perceived anti-India stance on Kashmir and the lack of appropriate representation in its candidates list is likely to make matters worse.
"We express our regret that the Labour Party has selected just one candidate of Indian heritage in 39 safe Labour seats, and no Indian heritage candidate in 100 target seats," notes the LFIN statement ahead of the Thursday deadline for parties to finalise their nominations for the polls next month.
"Furthermore, despite NEC (National Executive Committee) panels shortlisting or even selecting candidates in areas with a large Indian community such as Leicester, Ealing, Ilford, West Bromwich and Derby, no Indian-heritage candidates were selected. Despite making representations on this matter, our calls have been ignored," it adds.
There are five Labour MPs of Indian heritage who are up for re-election in the coming election.
Labour's only new Indian-heritage MP is likely to be Nav Mishra, who is contesting from a safe seat of Stockport in Greater Manchester.
LFIN points out that with the retirement of Goan-origin Keith Vaz, this would mean there will be zero increase in the number of Indian heritage Labour MPs in the new House of Commons.
Sundip Meghani, who was in the running to contest Vaz's seat from Leicester East, has also attacked the party's selection process after being snubbed in favour of Claudia Webbe.
"I cannot stay silent on the obvious dodgy practices and nepotism involved in this process, where Labour's ruling Executive chose a member of the Labour's ruling Executive, as the candidate," says Meghani, a solicitor who believes it is a "slap in the face of the Indian community" to impose a non-Indian heritage candidate in a seat with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country.
"It shows just how little the Labour Party values and respects the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs," he said.
LFIN points out that Indians are the largest ethnic minority group in the UK with over 1.5 million people, accounting for 2.3 per cent of the total UK population.
The Labour Party has traditionally attracted loyal support of the Indian community, with over 50 per cent of Indians living in the UK voting Labour in 2017, according to the Runnymede Trust.
However, this figure is likely to be hit in the 2019 polls amid growing resentment over a controversial emergency motion passed at the Jeremy Corbyn led to party's conference in September.
The motion, which the party admitted was open to misinterpretation, was widely seen to imply the need for international intervention in Kashmir following India's revocation of Article 370 to withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Amid mounting criticism, party chairman Ian Lavery intervened earlier this week to issue a statement which stressed that the Labour Party will not adopt any "anti-India or anti-Pakistan position over Kashmir."
LFIN, co-chaired by London's Deputy Mayor for Business Rajesh Agrawal and parliamentary candidate from Bristol North West Darren Jones, said: "We welcome the clarity provided by the party around the anti-India rhetoric contained in the emergency motion on Kashmir. There is a risk this failure to increase the representation of Indians in Parliament could hit Labour further," he said.
"As the party recognises, Indians in the UK make a terrific contribution towards business, medicine, our creative sector, our public services, and so many other fields".
The Labour Party must ensure it is never seen to take the support of the Indian community for granted.
"The latest intervention comes as it emerged that the overall ethnic diversity of the UK Parliament is set for a slowdown in these elections based on the candidate selections by the two main parties," Conservatives and Labour.