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Keir Starmer has vowed to “rebuild trust” with the Indian community following a major row over the selection of general election candidates.
Campaigners had warned the party they risked taking the “support of the Indian community for granted’ after choosing just one Indian heritage candidate to stand in safe and target seats in the 2019 election.
The row exploded last November after Jeremy Corbyn ally Claudia Webbe was chosen to replace Labour veteran Keith Vaz in his Leicester East seat, despite local councillor Sundip Meghani also putting herself forward for selection.
Speaking after she was rejected for the seat, Ms Meghani said the decision had been a “slap in the face for the Indian community”.
Meanwhile, Labour Friends of India said relations with the community were “already strained” after party members passed a motion at its annual conference on the conflict in Kashmir, which the group claimed included “anti-Indian rhetoric”.
But in a bid to heal the rift, newly elected leader Sir Keir Starmer vowed to work closely with the group to encourage more people from an Indian background to stand for council and Westminster elections.
“Britons of Indian origin contribute so much to the UK and to the Labour Party,” he said.
“I’m committed to working closely with Labour Friends of India to rebuild trust with the community. We must not allow issues of the sub-continent to divide communities here.”
And, in a clear rejection of the controversial 2019 conference motion, Sir Keir said: “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. Labour is an internationalist Party and stands for the defence of human rights everywhere.”
Sir Keir said as part of the process he would also meet with the Indian High Commissioner to “open a renewed dialogue” between his party and the Indian community.
He added: “A Labour Government under my leadership will be determined to build even stronger business links with India and to o-operate on the global stage on issues such as climate change.
“I look forward to meeting the Indian High Commissioner in due course to open a renewed dialogue between the Labour Party and the people of India.”
Rajesh Agrawal, Co-Chair of Labour Friends of India and Deputy Mayor of London for Businesses, said the announcement was a “great start”.
“I congratulate Keir Starmer on his election as leader,” he said.
“I really welcome his commitment to rebuilding strong links between the Labour Party and the Indian community. This has been a great start and Keir has achieved a lot in the short span of a couple of weeks.
“Labour Friends of India will work closely with him and will continue to promote UK-India ties as well as continuing to raise any issues from the community to the leadership.”