London Diary: BJP bats against Labour in upcoming UK election

BJP’s foot soldiers in Britain have jumped into the general election fray as self-styled champions of Conservatives, out of sheer pique with Labour for not toeing New Delhi’s policy on Kashmir

London Diary: BJP bats against Labour in upcoming UK election

Hasan Suroor

BJP’s foot soldiers in Britain have jumped into the general election fray as self-styled champions of Conservatives, out of sheer pique with Labour for not toeing New Delhi’s policy on Kashmir.

The party was accused by the Modi government of “pandering” to its British Pakistani voters after it adopted a resolution criticising the decision to revoke Kashmir’s special constitutional status. On cue, right-wing Hindu groups led by the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP) launched a campaign denouncing Labour as “anti-India” and calling for British Hindu and Sikh voters to back Tories despite the latter’s hard anti-immigration stance.

Manoj Ladwa, a key BJP strategist close to Narendra Modi, has resigned from Labour Party accusing it of having an “institutional bias” against India and Indians. He says it has been “hijacked” by “hard-Left extremists and jihadi sympathisers”.

His attack came as the Tories launched a social media campaign with the hashtag #UKIndiansLeaveLabour. The party has fielded two of its most high-profile BJP campaigners —Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, both close to BJP—to woo Indian-origin voters.

A panicked Labour has rushed to clarify that it has a neutral position on Kashmir and wants India and Pakistan to settle the dispute bilaterally without outside interference: a position successive Labour governments have followed over the years.

The BJP propaganda machine, however, continues to run full tilt aimed at influencing an estimated 900,000 Hindu and Sikh voters of British-Indian origin—and which Hindu groups believe could play a decisive role in as many as 40 constituencies.

The size of the ethnic minority vote has grown enormously over the past decade, and in next month’s elections one in five first-time voters will be from ethnic minorities.

No wonder, there’s such a scramble to cultivate them.

A dark December

As Britain heads into its first December election in nearly 100 years, candidates have been warned not to venture out alone or go canvassing in dark to avoid potential security risk amid growing incidents of violence against politicians.

Those regarded as particularly vulnerable have been given security alarms; and some have been advised not even to drive alone. The mood has turned so ugly on the back of a toxic Brexit discourse, orchestrated by none other than Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself, that many women MPs have decided to step down and not seek re-election citing threat to their own and their families’ security. Among them is former Tory Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan.

Female MPs have been a particular target of attack from Johnson supporters. Anna Soubry, a senior Tory MP, who left the party over differences on its Brexit policy has received a torrent of abuse online besides being physically harassed by Brexit fanatics just outside Parliament. She has been called “old bat”, “cockroach”, and “scum”.

Johnson is accused of fanning hate language after he called his critics of his Brexit deal anti-national and anti-people —and instigated Brexiteers against those who want Britain to remain in the European Union or favour a softer Brexit. He has frequently used sexist language in and outside Parliament referring to his female critics.

His choice of words, his misogynistic attitude, and his generally divisive rhetoric has earned him the sobriquet of “Britain’s Trump”. Wonder if he regards it as a compliment, or what it really is: an insult.

‘Happy to chat’

If you happen to be in Britain’s seaside resort of Burnham-on-Sea, in Somerset, and are feeling lonely, look out for ‘Happy to Chat’ benches. Soon someone will join you for a friendly chat.

These are part of a project conceived by a police officer Ashley Jones to help people beat loneliness which has become a serious problem in the West, especially among older people, leading to mental health issues.

He came up with the idea after meeting an old widow who had given away more than £25,000 of her life savings to a conman because his daily phone calls were her only human interaction, The Times reported.

Under the scheme, which has since spawned a global campaign, benches in public places are designated as ‘Happy to Chat’ seats, with signs indicating that anyone sitting there was happy to talk. The first seat had the sign: “Sit here if you don’t mind someone stopping to say hello.”

He says he has been “inundated” with requests for help in setting up chat benches.

“It’s such an easy thing that anyone can do it,” he said.


The small print

It has been called one of cinema’s “great misjudgments”. In 1959, British film-maker Victor Saville, bought the film rights for Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap, which was then running at a London theatre. But the contract came with a rider: he wouldn’t be allowed to film it until it had ended its stage run.

Saville died 40 years ago, but the play is still running ...

And, lastly, Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat where he lives with his partner Carrie Symonds is said to be so bare that it prompted one visitor to comment: Less to move out on December 13, I suppose.”

December 13 is of course when we will know whether he has won or lost the election.

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