David Ward, member of House of Commons from Bradford East, is a known India baiter. In a way, he is a Pakistani stooge in the British Parliament and has all along sided with those who want New Delhi to convert the temporary (anti-democratic, communal and divisive) Article 370 into a permanent feature of the Indian constitution; grant the Kashmiri Muslims of this part of the state the right to self-determination and quit Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) forth with. He belongs to that perverted school of thought that considers this part of J&K a “disputed” territory, dismisses the otherwise lawful accession of the State to India as a “fraud” and endorses the atrocious view of the aggressor Pakistan that J&K is an “unfinished agenda of partition”.
So, it didn’t surprise any objective and keen Kashmir-watcher when he, on August 4 this year, succeeded in persuading the Backbench Business Committee (BBC) to have “a special debate” on the human rights situation in Kashmir in the House of Commons of British Parliament. He convinced the BBC that a debate on the human rights situation had become imperative because the Narendra Modi Government had been “quite aggressive in terms of its stance towards Kashmir”, which, according to him, was “opening up a whole new area of uncertainty”. He told the BBC that he had 40 MPs backing him through a “signature campaign”.
The senseless and provocative permission for a debate on J&K was nothing but a total negation of the age-old stand of London that the State was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and that it could only help both the countries come on a negotiating table. As late as in July 2014, Britain's Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire had told the Parliament that “This (J&K) is a long-running conflict, and we stand by to help; but ultimately it can be resolved only by the two countries in question”.
Anyway, the motion of the petition which was accepted for discussion by the BBC read: “This house (read House of Commons) believes that the ongoing Kashmir dispute is a threat to regional and global peace; further that the dispute is causing insecurity, instability and human rights violations; and further that the state of Jammu & Kashmir should be given the right to self-determination”.
A report in the British media about the permission for a debate on the political future of this part of J&K had then evoked a strong reaction from the London-based friends and well-wishers of India, as also from J&K State. BJP president and Member of Lok Sabha Jugal Kishore Sharma. “Friends of India”, “Southeast Asian think tanks” and the BJP MPs all contemptuously dismissed the decision as a brazen interference in the internal affairs of India. They asked: “Why should (J&K) be discussed in the (British) Parliament when Britain has always been of the view that it is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan?”
It was hoped by some that the BBC would reconsider its decision following the adverse reaction to its controversial decision, but, sadly, it didn’t happen. Instead, it fixed September 11 as the date for discussion. However, what transpired during the debate in a committee room under the auspices of the BBC—and not in the chamber of the House of Commons—was not on the lines David Ward had expected. That the debate could not be held in the chamber of the House of Commons was the first major defeat of his sinister game plan.
David Ward and other pro-Pakistan MPs suffered the second defeat when Tobias Ellwood, a junior Minister in the British Foreign Office, endorsed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s line on dialogue with Pakistan and J&K. Replying at the end of a three-hour-long debate on the “political and humanitarian situation” in Kashmir, he candidly said: “Talks (between India and Pakistan) can only take place free from terrorism and violence”. This precisely has been the stand of the BJP-led NDA Government: Terrorism and talks cannot go hand-in-hand and export of terror by Pakistan into India must stop. He not only stuck to the original British stand on J&K, but also declared on behalf of the British Government that “there would be ‘no mediation’ by Britain in respect of the differences between India and Pakistan over Kashmir”.
During the three-hour debate, 18 speakers spoke. Only three spoke for and on behalf of Islamabad and they included David Ward, who represents a constituency where bulk of the voters or their families are from Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied-J&K (read Muslims), and two MPs of Pakistan origin. Leading the anti-India tack, David Ward asserted that “we (Britain) have some part to play in Kashmir”, but his stand was “roundly” rejected by a majority of MPs.
Other who spoke and did not speak directly and indirectly batted for India and they belonged to the Labour Party, Conservative Party and other political groups. Barry Gardiner, a Labour Party MP, for example said: “Britain would be outraged if the Indian Parliament debated the merits and demerits of the Scottish referendum” and dismissed the debate on J&K as “ill-judged”. Bob Blackman, a Conservative MP, went several steps further and talked about the issue of religious cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus, their exodus from the Valley and “refugee status in their own country”.
MPs like Paul Uppal (Conservative Party) and Virendra Sharma (Labour Party) – both of Indian origin – also lambasted the movers of the petition and defended the Indian stand on J&K and Pakistan. Paul Uppal, for instance, poured venom over what he called “white middle-aged men lecturing India” and drew the attention of the house that Britain “carried imperial, historical baggage” and that “it should have ‘more faith’ in the subcontinent”. Similarly, Virendra Sharma said that “he was ‘disappointed’ that the debate was taking place”. He termed the debate as “divisive” and stated that “he is elected from a diverse constituency (Ealing Southall) where there are Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims”. “The debate could ‘inflame tensions’ in his constituency,” he also said.
The point is that speaker after speaker echoed almost identical sentiments and rubbished the Pakistani charge that Indian security forces were violating human rights of Kashmiri Muslims. It would be only appropriate to quote from a report from London a relevant portion to put things in perspective and establish that David Ward and his two Pakistani supporter MPs were completely cornered by the pro-India MPs. Report from London in this regard said: “About one-third of the speakers were even-handed and did not categorically take sides. Unlike past debates on Kashmir in the British Parliament, the public gallery appeared to be equally divided between Indians and Pakistanis and not predominantly the latter community. Rumblings of discontent were heard from a section of the audience every time a speaker took up cudgels for India and correspondingly clapping from another segment, which were frequent as the strength of solidarity with India was unprecedented…Those reflecting India's stance on Kashmir were well prepared. Not only did they seem to have been well briefed, but had done their own home work.
“British Parliament should focus on Scotland rather than Kashmir and we are able enough to handle our problem”. —Abhishek Manu Singhvi
“British Parliament's decision to discuss Kashmir issue condemnable. Can we take up Falkland Islands or Scotland issue for discussion in our Parliament?”
By comparison, the apologists for Islamabad indulged in propaganda, including questioning the legitimacy of elections in Kashmir… Had there been a vote, the pro-India lobby would have won hands down”. However, to say all this is not to suggest that London didn’t commit a mistake by allowing a debate on J&K. It did and that’s the reason BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav the same day said: “British Parliament's decision to discuss Kashmir issue condemnable. Can we take up Falkland Islands or Scotland issue for discussion in our Parliament?” he said so on microblogging site twitter.com.
Interestingly, controversial Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi took a similar line and said, “British Parliament should focus on Scotland rather than Kashmir and we are able enough to handle our problem”.
Hari Om (The writer is former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Jammu)