SRINAGAR: The last British election had Kashmir a key component of the campaign and the trend has not died down. In a by-election for a West Yorkshire seat, the Kashmir card emerged so hugely that the incumbent Labour candidate was thought to have lost the poll.
I am truly honoured that the people of #BatleyAndSpen have put their faith & trust in me. I am full of gratitude for everyone who voted for me & for the many people who played a part in such a positive campaign. This is a win for every single one of them & for unity over division pic.twitter.com/bjPq1hucFZ
— Kim Leadbeater MP (@kimleadbeater) July 2, 2021
The Labour did win but with a slight margin. Unlike December 2019, when the party won by a margin of 3525 votes, it retained the Batley and Spen berth by a thin margin of 323.
The winner, Kim Leadbeater said she has committed herself to campaign against “Narendra Modi’s policies in Kashmir”, The Telegraph reported from London. The 44-year old is the sister of Jo Cox, the former Labour MP from the same seat who was murdered by a right-wing fanatic in June 2016.
The berth went to polls after Tracey Brabin, Cox’s successor, stepped down in May after being elected mayor of West Yorkshire.
In order to get the pro-Muslim votes – almost 8600 in number, Leadbeater issued the “provocative leaflet” showing Boris Johnson shaking hands with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, alongside the warning: “Don’t risk a Tory MP who is not on your side.” It added without naming Boris: “A Prime Minister who is silent on human rights abuses in Kashmir.” Interestingly most of the Muslim voters are from Gujarat and not Pakistan.
Though the leaflet was criticised, the Labour refused to withdraw it. There were even people within Labour that were against the leaflet idea. When Barry Gardiner, a former Labour lawmaker supported the idea of withdrawing the leaflet, he was personally attacking. The Telegraph reported: A tweet from Patrick Maguire had included a photograph of Gardiner with Modi and the comment: “In Batley and Spen, Labour will put you on an attack leaflet if you pose alongside Modi.”
This seat had 16 contestants and Muslim issues were part of the campaign. George Galloway had raised the Palestine issue insisting that Labour was pro-Israel and people hoped he may actually take away the seat. But he has emerged as third in the election polling 8,264. “Leadbeater appears to have attracted just enough Pakistani voters to get 13,296 votes, compared with 12,973 for the Tory candidate, Ryan Stephenson,” the report said. Interestingly the constituency saw only 37695 voters of the total electorate of 79373 participating thus making it a sort of low-poll Kashmir election with only 47.49 per cent participation.
Labour leaflet was a counter-strategy as the other contestants had put the party into a tight spot on Kashmir. With almost a week ahead of the July 10, polls, Leadbeater was chased and heckled by a British Kashmiri campaigner, accusing her that Labour had let them down. They were referring to Labour leader Keir Starmer May 2020 statement.
“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,” Starmer had said. “Labour is an internationalist party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.”
It was in this backdrop that the Labour devised the leaflet to offset the possible damage. It finally won with a slender margin.