Days before the U.K. election which resulted in a big majority for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the British government sent a message to the Ministry of External Affairs and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to express its concerns that the party was taking a partisan stand on the election.
The Hindu has learnt that a senior British diplomat met the BJP’s Foreign Cell Head in Delhi to express the concerns, after interviews given by BJP-affiliated OF-BJP (Overseas Friends of BJP) leaders, including president Kuldip Singh Shekhawat, that indicated that the Indian ruling party would prefer a Conservative party win.
“We raised concerns over remarks made in London by OFBJP that the BJP was supporting Conservative candidates”, a source said about the matters raised during the meeting, adding that they “received assurances that [the BJP was] not.”
The interviews referred in particular to the Labour Party Conference’s “emergency motion” on the “human rights situation” in Kashmir, which it subsequently regretted, where OFBJP officials spoke of the need to defeat what they called the “anti-India” Labour party.
Speaking to journalists, Mr. Shekhawat had said his group, which had previously not registered a party affiliation, had identified 48 marginal-lead seats where the Indian diaspora could make a difference, and would persuade voters to vote for the Conservative party. He had also named constituencies where Labour MPs of Indian-origin were standing, where his organisation would mobilise support for the Conservative candidates instead. Mr. Shekhawat did not respond to attempts by The Hindu to reach him.
BJP sources confirmed that British diplomats had reached out to Vijay Chauthaiwale, who heads the party’s foreign affairs cell.
“They did meet with some people from the party but we conveyed our position that while there may have been some hurt feelings over Mr. Corbyn’s position over the Indian government’s actions on Jammu and Kashmir, that preference had not translated into any mobilisation for Mr. Johnson. We made it clear that we believe that elections in Britain are solely the prerogative of the British people,” said the party official, who did not want to be named.
The MEA declined to make an official comment, but sources said the government’s position had been conveyed to the U.K. government on the matter, that, “Election is an internal matter of UK. People who voted in the elections are all UK nationals. We do not wish to get involved as to which section of their population is supporting whom.”
According to the sources there had also been some concerns over a video released on Twitter by Conservative MP Shailesh Vara, who had used images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Indian High Commissioner to the UK Ruchi Ghanshyam showing them with the Conservative party leader and PM Boris Johnson, as well as messages shared on Conservative party WhatsApp groups.
In the results of the general election declared on December 12, the Conservative party led by Mr. PM Boris Johnson won with a large majority, and Indian-origin candidates won in a record 15 seats (compared to 12 seats in 2017), seven of which belonged to the Conservative party and seven to the Labour party.
According to Manoj Ladwa, the CEO of London-based India Global Business magazine, who also criticised Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s “overt hostility” towards India, a survey conducted by his media group had shown a “12-point shift away from Labour”, which was the party traditionally supported by the Indian diaspora in the past.