Kashmir, Blue Star jabs

Labour politician talks tough on India relations

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 23.10.17
Emily Thornberry

London: A future Labour government will hold India to account for any human rights abuses in Kashmir, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told Indian journalists in London on Saturday.

It will also order a fresh inquiry into the help given by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 to her Indian counterpart, Indira Gandhi, over Operation Blue Star.

Thornberry, who will expect to become foreign secretary if Jeremy Corbyn wins the next general election -which is no longer considered impossible - revealed that she had written the references to Kashmir and Operation Blue Star in the last election manifesto.

The manifesto had said: "We will also urge negotiations towards a political resolution in all other regions currently experiencing conflict, including Kashmir, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen."

It had added: "Labour remains committed to an independent inquiry into Britain's military role in the 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar."

An Indian source had told The Telegraph at the time that had Corbyn tried to follow up on these two commitments, "it would have led to a rupture in relations (with India)".

Thornberry, though, told members of the Indian Journalists' Association that a future Labour government would look at relations with India through the prism of human rights.

"A labour government would insist that trade development and human rights are all inseparable parts of the same conversation," she said.

"We are simply affirming as a matter of policy and as a matter of principle that democracy, human rights and sustainable development should be fully embedded as part of any trade negotiations. And under Labour that's what would happen."

Speculation is bound to follow that the Labour leadership has been "got at" by Pakistani-origin MPs on the subject of Kashmir, and by those Sikh community leaders who want to keep alive old issues such as Blue Star and perhaps even Khalistan.

Thornberry was reminded that former Labour MP Sadiq Khan, who has roots in Pakistan, had won last year's mayoral election by avoiding the Kashmir issue and thereby attracting support from Indians, who make up London's biggest ethnic minority group.

"With respect, he is mayor of London - I would be foreign secretary," she responded.

She added: "I may be completely misjudging the situation but it does seem to me that any British Indians that I meet would have great difficulty in not agreeing that we need to find a peaceful resolution in Kashmir. The situation is not one that can continue - it needs to be sorted out. Of course, it does. It is not for us the British to start telling the Indians and Pakistanis how to resolve the situation but it is our place to keep saying it does need to be resolved. And it needs to be resolved in a peaceful manner. And this is not radical - this is just common sense. What I am saying in relation to Kashmir is not unreasonable."

Some will say that Labour wants to poison the Tories' relationship with Sikh voters by reopening Blue Star.

Thornberry said: "There is an enduring feeling of injustice among Sikh people around the world and a concern about British involvement in the deaths in Amritsar; so it is a question of transparency and wanting to get to the truth and so I think it is very difficult for the many Sikh people to just let it drop.

"Too many people were killed and the allegations against the British in terms of what our involvement was remains unresolved; and so it is a difficult and sensitive issue but we should not run away from it.

"There has been an investigation under David Cameron but I don't think that it was published, was it? The problem is what is being held back, what is not being held back, what has been found out, what hasn't been found out.

"I think there needs to be fresh eyes on that. People are very suspicious (of) the way in which David Cameron tried to resolve it.... It was felt that he made a lot of promises and then pulled back on it. And I think we need to look at that again."