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How newly-elected British PM Keir Starmer changed Labour Party's stance on Kashmir? EXPLAINED

The Labour swept 412 seats in the 650-member Parliament in a historic victory, sweeping Conservatives from power after 14 years. Keir Starmer, 61, took the reins of the country as PM as all eyes would be on his administration's plans to boost strategic partnership with India.

Written By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee London Updated on: July 06, 2024 18:11 IST
Keir Starmer, India
Image Source : REUTERS British PM Keir Starmer at 10 Downing Street on Friday.

London: In an election whose results were foretold, the United Kingdom voted Keir Starmer's Labour Party back to power by a landslide on Thursday, in the hopes of bringing a change in the 14 turbulent years of Conservative rule beset by economic stagnation, housing shortages, party infighting and scandals. The Labour swept 412 seats in the 650-member Parliament, making it a historic victory.

However, the mandate had little to do with support to Labour than it was the fury directed at Rishi Sunak's Tories, which suffered its worst performance in the two-century history by getting only 121 seats. Sunak described it as a"sobering verdict" following the chaos that stemmed from the debacle of the Brexit referendum. Once considered a 'poster boy' of the Indian community in the UK, repeated failures seemed to have caused Sunak dearly.

Now that the election is over, India can view the developments in the UK with a great deal of optimism after Starmer's election as the next Prime Minister. Starmer, 61, has worked considerably hard to change the party's position on India and Kashmir under Jeremy Corbyn, under whom Labour's relationship with the Indian community was strained.

Jeremy Corbyn's stand on India

Notably, Jeremy Corbyn was the leader of the Labour Party, who led it to a historic defeat in the 2019 elections when Boris Johnson took charge of the Conservatives. It was after this election that Corbyn was replaced by Starmer as the party leader, and the two had an acrimonious falling out after Corbyn was suspended for his stance on antisemitism within the party.

In 2019, the Labour Party passed an emergency motion calling for international observers to enter the disputed area of Kashmir and demand the right of self-determination of the people in the area. This decision followed India's decision to revoke Article 370, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

The Ministry of External Affairs strongly condemned the resolution as "uninformed and unfounded" and accused Corbyn of "pandering to vote bank interests". The resolution was condemned by over 100 British-Indian professional and community organisations who slammed Labour for bringing an India-Pakistan affair to the domestic politics of the UK.

“The emergency motion on Kashmir came through as part of the democratic process of the Labour Party Conference. However, there is a recognition that some of the language used within it could be misinterpreted as hostile to India and the Indian Diaspora,” Corbyn said, defending his stance. His take on Kashmir ultimately did not end well for him as Labour suffered a huge defeat in 2019.

How did Starmer change Labour's position on Kashmir?

Starmer has been credited for bringing the party back to the centre following the 2019 defeat and enforcing discipline among party members. On India, Starmer has realised the political clout of the Indian community, which is one of the largest and fastest-growing ethnic communities in the UK and has thus changed Labour's approach to Kashmir through what observers call 'progressive realism'.

In his several interactions with the Indian diaspora and public addresses, Starmer has asserted that Kashmir is an internal issue between India and Pakistan and will thus be resolved by the two countries. "Any constitutional issues in India are a matter for the Indian Parliament, and Kashmir is a bilateral issue for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully," he said in a meeting with Labour Friends of India.

Under Starmer's leadership, the Labour Party has vowed to stamp out anti-India sentiments within its ranks and build a strong strategic partnership with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led administration. During a visit to the Shree Swaminarayan Temple in Kingsbury, north London, on the campaign trail last week, the newly-elected British PM sought to reassure British Hindus that there is “absolutely no place for Hinduphobia in Britain”.

How Starmer's administration will establish relations with India?

Prior to the election, the Labour Party published an election manifesto that promised a "new strategic partnership" with India, including the long-negotiated Free Trade Agreement, along with deepening of cooperation in areas like security, education, technology and climate change. “I have a clear message for you all today: this is a changed Labour Party,” declared Starmer at the India Global Forum (IGF) last year.

As Starmer was elected as PM on Friday, India has much to look forward to, as newly-appointed Foreign Secretary David Lammy has already vowed to close the FTA deal and move ahead in other areas of cooperation. Labour also chose British Indian MP Lisa Nandy as the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, which is expected to boost ties with the Indian community.

“I want to say to those people who’ve brought their nasty, hateful, racist politics to our town, the history of Wigan is of working-class people who for 100 years have driven you and your hate out of our town over and over again,” Nandy said in her acceptance speech after defeating her Conservative predecessor Lucy Frazer.

ALSO READ | Keir Starmer becomes first British PM from Labour after 14 years following historic win


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