The latest quarrel between India’s main political parties – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC) – was triggered by a tweet by Jeremy Corbyn.
The British Labour Party leader tweeted that a team of Congress supporters had met him to discuss concerns about the situation in the Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir whose special autonomous status in the Indian Constitution was abrogated by the BJP government early in August. Attacked by the BJP for deliberating matters of national security with a foreign politician, the Congress hastened to clarify that it had met Corbyn to inform him that there was no role for foreign countries in the Kashmir dispute.
As ironical as that sounds, it is a glance into the way the longstanding Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan has gone global – in local ways – even as the diaspora of both countries flex their muscles. Labour Party delegates also passed a resolution expressing concern about the Indian government’s action in Kashmir – and more than one hundred British Indian organizations responded with a petition condemning it. Critics also pointed out that many of the politicians who had spearheaded the petition belonged to electoral constituencies with large Pakistani diaspora. Meanwhile many of the politicians who spoke against this Labour Party move had the backing of British Indians. Many erstwhile Labour supporters among British Indians are now shifting their allegiance to Conservatives – after all it was a prominent Tory leader who immediately piped up to criticize the Labour resolution on Kashmir.
In a sense Britain, once the colonial power that presided over the split of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, now faces a situation in which that bitter divide has come home. British Indians are now the largest diaspora communities in the United Kingdom with around 1.4 million people while British Pakistanis are not far behind at around 1.17 million. Influential, outspoken and wealthy (billionaires of Indian origin regularly top the UK’s rich lists), and increasingly electorally significant (some of the UK’s most prominent mayors including that of the city of London have Pakistani roots), these diasporas have brought the politics of the countries of their origin onto the streets of Britain.
This pattern is being repeated in America where there is an emerging divide between some parts of the Democratic and Republican parties along India-Pakistan lines especially on Kashmir. This was most sharply revealed when Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders decided to write an essay critical of India’s actions in Kashmir in a prominent Houston newspaper just before an event featuring Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking to around fifty thousand cheering Indian Americans and attended by US President Donald Trump.
Analysts have pointed out that Trump sees in Americans of Indian origin, who are barely one percentage of the population but are some of the most educated and wealthiest Americans, as a potential source for funds for his reelection campaign. With Indians as CEOs of the some of the best-known companies (including Google and Microsoft) in Silicon Valley, it has been speculated that Trump might even see better ties with the community as a path to bettering ties with the Valley which has mostly been antagonistic to him.
Even among the Democrats, a clear divide has emerged – with politicians like Tulsi Gabbard taking a far more conciliatory approach to Modi’s Kashmir decision than Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
With a nearly 18 million-strong Indian diaspora around the world, and approximately half that figure from Pakistan, there is a growing sense that conflicts from South Asia are destined to expand far beyond their geographical borders. As the diasporas from both countries become more plentiful and prosperous, they are also becoming more political and assertive. Once content with making money and achieving community leadership positions, members of the Indian and Pakistani diaspora are not only lending support to political parties and candidates of their choice, and swinging election results in key constituencies, but they are also throwing their hat in to contest themselves, and indeed achieving political power and position.
Expect the battles of South Asia to make more noise than ever around the world.