Tensions between British Muslims and Hindus have been stoked during the current election season through WhatsApp propaganda aimed at British Indians. The UK arm of Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to campaign for the Tories against Labour in over 40 seats.
This follows a motion backed at Labour’s Annual conference calling for the people of Kashmir to be given the right to determine their own future. The Indian government stripped the territory of its semi-autonomous status in August and the region is under lockdown. Reports of human rights violations are seeping out despite the media blackout, and Kashmir’s most prominent political and business leaders as well as the president of the Bar Association are all in detention.
While the scale of the campaigning on group WhatsApps against the Labour party cannot be determined, it has been used effectively to push propaganda on large groups of voters according to the HuffPost. Accusations include that “Labour is against India” and suggestions that the party is in some way responsible for grooming scandals in the UK that have included Pakistani-origin men.
One message urged voters not to choose Labour because “they have blindly supported Pakistan’s falls propaganda against the issue of article 370 in Kashmir which is India’s internal matter” and to therefore vote Conservative. Group chats are popular among the British Indian community but it is yet unclear to what extent the divisive campaigning will impact the elections.
Earlier this month, a man was filmed in a Hindu temple telling attendees Labour “supports Jihadis”. Meanwhile, Hindu leader Trupti Patel, president of the Hindu Forum of Britain, told an audience she would ban Labour politicians from Hindu functions, starting with a Diwali event she was to host in Parliament.
Eviane Leidig, a researcher at the Centre for Research on Extremism in Oslo told the HuffPost that there have been communal tensions in the UK for decades but that its prominence on social media is a new phenomenon. Hindu nationalist narratives have become “mainstreamed and legitimised”, and are “now sort of acceptable among the diaspora”.
Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough, said: “I urge my Hindu and Sikh British compatriots: don’t fall for the divisive tactics of religious hardliners, trying to wedge apart our cohesive community, circulating lies on WhatsApp.”
Having Labour and the Conservative party labelled as the anti-Indian and pro-Indian parties will only deepen sectarian divides between Sikh, Muslim and Hindu communities and encourage Islamophobic rhetoric.