London: Efforts of two British MPs to deflect attention and stem the anti-India feeling in the House of Commons on alleged human rights violations by the Narendra Modi government in Jammu and Kashmir went in vain during oral answers by Dominic Raab, foreign secretary in the Conservative party administration of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, to questions.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was the first item on the agenda of the house after a six week summer recess.
Shailesh Vara, who is a Conservative MP of Indian origin, asked: “Following the action by the Indian Government in Kashmir, on August 15, Indian Independence Day, a group of British Indians gathered outside the Indian high commission in London, but they were attacked by members of another community.
“Will my right honourable friend confirm that the violence and abuse targeted towards the British Indian community on that occasion are completely unacceptable, as they would be against any community on the streets of the UK?”
Raab replied: “My honourable friend is absolutely right. Any violence is deplorable. It should not be conducted in this country, or anywhere else for that matter, against any individual communities. We now need to try to reduce these tensions but also, on a positive side, to build confidence-building measures to allow proper dialogue between the communities in Kashmir but also between India and Pakistan.”
This was followed by Bob Blackman, another Conservative, asking: “It has been a long-standing policy of the Government that the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is a bilateral issue. It has also been this House that stands up for human rights and the protection of minorities. Therefore, does my right honourable friend agree that the abolition of Article 370, which discriminates against women and minority religions, is to be welcomed?”
Raab responded: “My honorable friend makes the point that there are different sides to this. But the reality is that there have been widespread reports and concerns about detentions, mistreatments and the communications blackout.
“There was a UN Security Council discussion on Kashmir on August 16. As well as wanting to respect the constitutional arrangements within India and in relation to Kashmir, there are implications internationally, particularly as they touch on internationally respected and recognised human rights.”
Clearly, Raab’s retort to Blackman was not at all helpful to India’s cause. It reflected the mood of the house. In fact, when Vara and Blackman submitted their queries, these were met with derision by a sizeable number of MPs.
In contrast, 10 MPs from the three biggest parties in the Commons were distinctly agitated by the goings-on in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
They were Hugh Gaffney, Dr Paul Williams, Paul Bloomfield, Imran Hussain, Liz McInnes and Emily Thornberry of the Labour party; Steve Baker, Anne Main and Dame Cheryl Gillian of the Conservative party; and Alison Thewliss of the Scottish National Party.
It is well known that Kashmir is the number one agenda in Pakistan’s foreign policy. The moment the Indian government abrogated Article 370 of the Indian constitution and thereby removed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status in the Indian union on August 5, the Pakistani high commission in London swung into action.
Not just the British Pakistani community, but anti-India pro-Khalistan elements were galvanised into making their presence felt. The MPs may have been away for their summer breaks; but they were contacted and lined up to take India to task as soon as the British parliament was back in session.
The net result was a 10 to 2 drubbing for India, with even the question from Blackman proving to be counter-productive.
Given the controversial nature of the actions in Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian high commission ought to have been prepared to meet the backlash.
Generally, it is the responsibility of the high commissioner, the deputy high commissioner and political officers of India House to gear themselves to ward off the challenge. There are one minister and two first secretary level diplomats in the chancery’s political wing.
The assignment as always was to approach key MPs individually and brief them thoroughly about the Indian viewpoint. Either this was not adequately undertaken or the MPs ignored India’s argument.
There are two cabinet ministers of Indian extraction in the Johnson government – Home Secretary Priti Patel and International Development Secretary Alok Sharma. Besides, Rishi Sunak is Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which is almost a cabinet rank post. Despite this, the Indian high commission was attacked on India’s Independence Day on August 15 last month and again on Tuesday when damage was caused to the premises, according to a tweet posted by @HCI_London.