Updated: May 26, 2022 10:51:05 am
JEREMY CORBYN found himself in the middle of a war of words between the BJP and Congress on Tuesday. While that may have been new terrain for the 72-year-old Labour MP who grew up in Shropshire in England’s West Midlands region, the fact that it was he who became the matter of debate during Rahul Gandhi’s UK campus tour was hardly a surprise.
An anti-austerity and anti-war campaigner, Corbyn has followed an unusual career path in politics, leaving a train of divisive issues in his wake. He was first elected to the House of Commons from Islington North in the Greater London area in 1983 but spent the next three decades as a backbencher. A major reason was that his political positions were hardly in sync, if ever, with his party’s leadership — opposition to austerity and war, nationalisation of public utilities, support for Irish republicanism, and calls to limit arms supplies to Israel and to have a dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah in the Middle East.
But is Corbyn also “anti-India”, as the BJP claimed while targeting Rahul for his meeting with Corbyn on Tuesday, marked with a photograph of the same, along with Sam Pitroda? This is not the first time the ruling party has raised the matter. In October 2019 too, following the revocation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, Union Minister Amit Shah had lashed out at Rahul after a delegation of the Indian Overseas Congress’s UK chapter had met Corbyn to discuss the situation in Kashmir. Shah had criticised the Congress for “taking up India’s internal matters with foreign leaders”.
Just a few days after the abrogation, Corbyn had posted on Twitter: “The situation in Kashmir is deeply disturbing. Human rights abuses taking place are unacceptable. The rights of the Kashmiri people must be respected and UN resolutions implemented.”
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At its annual conference, the Corbyn-led Labour Party had also passed an emergency policy motion criticising the decision to revoke Kashmir’s special status. The delegates maintained that Kashmiris should have self-determination rights. “The enforced disappearance of civilians, the State-endorsed sexual violence on women by armed forces and the overall prevalence of human rights violations in the region not only continues but has exasperated further in the past week,” the motion stated.
Following the motion, sections of the Indian diaspora in the UK had called on the community to not vote for Labour in the country’s general elections scheduled for December that year. More than 100 Indian groups had also written to Corbyn in protest.
The British party, which went on to lose the elections, had eventually admitted that the emergency motion had caused offence to India and many British Indians. The poll defeat had led to Corbyn stepping down as Labour leader.
On Tuesday, attacking the Congress, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju tweeted: “Again … Rahul Gandhi meets UK MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who is known for his hatred and dislike for India, advocates Kashmir’s secession… how long and how much one can go on against one’s own country.” BJP leaders Amit Malviya and Kapil Mishra also took to Twitter to lash out at the Congress leader.
In response, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said it was natural for political leaders to meet other leaders with divergent views. Showing a picture of Corbyn with Prime Minister Narendra Modi from 2015, he said, “Finally, may I also ask our media friends to identify the two men… and ask the same questions? Does it mean PM has endorsed Jeremy Corbyn’s views on India?”
Modi had met Corbyn during a visit to the UK.
Corbyn himself is hardly likely to moderate his views, which stem from an ideological grounding in a hard-Left political milieu. Following his seemingly improbable victory in 2015 in the Labour leadership race, which vaulted him into the front benches for the first time, he had also faced attacks from the ruling Conservative Party and questions from the British media for his views.
In 2016, Corbyn had told MPs investigating accusations of antisemitism in Labour that he regretted once calling members of the Hamas and Hezbollah his “friends”. He had told the parliamentary committee that he had used the phrase to describe the militant groups during a meeting in Parliament in 2009.
Corbyn’s anti-war positions and stances have been criticised by his rivals as inimical to national security. He has consistently voted against the use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, did not support the war in Afghanistan, voted against UK involvement in the Iraq war, and has also opposed replacing the UK’s Trident nuclear weapons system with a new one.
Since he stepped down from the Labour leadership position, Corbyn has faced other rows. In October 2020, the UK’s human rights watchdog found the Labour responsible for “unlawful” acts of harassment and discrimination during Corbyn’s tenure as party leader. After he claimed that his opponents had “dramatically overstated” the scale of the problem, the party suspended him from membership and revoked his whip.
Though Labour decided to readmit Corbyn as a party member three weeks later, his whip still stands revoked. Last month, current Labour leader Keir Starmer said his predecessor would not have the whip restored till he continued associating with the Stop the War coalition.
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