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SOURCE: PTI

The UK’s Opposition Labour Party, hoping to win a mandate to form a government after the July 4 general election, has committed itself to stamping out anti-India sentiments within its ranks and building a strong strategic partnership with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led administration.

The party’s resolution during an annual conference under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in favour of international intervention in Kashmir was widely seen as having cost it British Indian votes in the 2019 general election.

There have also been concerns over some Labour councillors espousing pro-Khalistan views.

At a ‘Political Hustings’ event for Britain’s South Asian community organised by ‘Asian Voice’ in partnership with City Sikhs and City Hindus Network in London on Friday evening, Labour Party chair and shadow secretary of state for women and equalities Anneliese Dodds claimed that the party led by Keir Starmer is confident of having cleansed its ranks of any members with such extremist views.

“We would certainly never take any group of voters, wherever they’re from, for granted; we’re working hard for everyone’s votes,” said Dodds, in response to a question posed by PTI on winning back Indian diaspora voters alienated in the last polls.

“If there is any evidence on that [anti-India sentiment], whichever group of people, I will do something about that,” she stated, calling upon the “incredible diaspora” community to “furnish her details” of any party representatives who may pose a threat to closer India-UK ties under a future Labour-led government.

“Going beyond warm words, we want to build that practical, strong relationship. Labour has talked a lot about a strategic partnership with India that covers trade… but we want to see cooperation in other areas as well such as new technologies, the environment, security,” she said.

Felicity Buchan, Minister at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, sought to highlight her party’s pro-India track record at the hustings including having a Prime Minister of Indian heritage in Rishi Sunak.

“I think that the relationship with India is incredibly important… the diaspora that we have in the UK adds so much to our life here in the UK,” said Buchan, Tory MP candidate for Kensington and Bayswater in London.

“We have very strong historic and cultural ties, but there is so much to be done going forward. We are negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) at the moment… it’s a big priority for both our Prime Ministers, but it’s not just the trade deal,” she said, highlighting collaborations in fields such as COVID vaccines and defence and security.

Lord Christopher Fox, a Liberal Democrat peer who sits on the House of Lords International Agreements Committee which scrutinises trade deals, also referenced the FTA – which aims to enhance the GBP 38. 1 billion India-UK trading partnership but is currently stalled in the fourteenth round of negotiations amid the election cycles in both countries.

“There are clear stumbling blocks that have prevented us from getting to the point where we were supposed to have got to. But let’s look at this from the UK’s perspective: there is a huge benefit to getting this deal done. The economy in India is racing ahead. The technology in India is racing ahead. And it’s really important for the United Kingdom that we’re linking ourselves with this fantastic economy,” said Fox. Pallavi Devulapalli, the Green Party spokesperson for health, social care and public health and candidate from South West Norfolk, pointed to the party’s new Green Friends of India group created “specifically to foster India-UK relations, promote trade, promoting cultural exchange, and just really strengthening ties”.

All parties and independent candidates are now in the midst of a final dash for votes, including from a significant electorate within the UK’s 1.8 million strong Indian diaspora, ahead of voting day on Thursday.