The party is facing a challenge from the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), Indian PM Narendra Modi’s party, which pledged to campaign for Tories in the election amid nationalist anger at Labour’s stance on Kashmir.
Messages on WhatsApp, used by the Modi government to push propaganda, have also been circulating among voters accusing Labour of being anti-India and suggesting they should vote Tory.
The row broke out after Labour’s conference called for the people of Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan, to be given the right to decide their own future.
A hundred days ago, Modi stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status and put the state into lockdown, including a communications blackout and curfew.
It was a hugely controversial move which led Labour members at party conference to back a policy motion calling for Kashmiris to have the right to self-determination.
But following reports of BJP-linked moves to use the issue against Labour, Ian Lavery wrote a letter making clear that “Kashmir is a bilateral matter for India and Pakistan to resolve together by means of a peaceful which protects the human rights of the Kashmiri people and respects their right to have a say in their own future”.
The party chair did however attack “external interference” and said he was “adamant that the deeply felt and genuinely held differences on the issue of Kashmir must not be allowed to divide communities against each other here in the UK”.
Indian-origin Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi criticised Modi’s crackdown in Kashmir and BJP-linked “foreign external interference”.
“We cannot have Kashimiri politicians being imprisoned either at home or elsewhere because those democratically elected leaders of the Kashmiri people along with the communications lockdown and the curfew is what has caused so much tension,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“That’s why many of my own Slough constituents have got in touch with me, because they fear for the safety and wellbeing of their relatives and that’s why many of us have spoken out.
“What’s happening now is the fact that within our own elections, within our own polity, we’ve had talk in recent years about foreign external interference in elections and this is another prime example of that.”
Dhesi backed Lavery’s clarification of Labour policy.
Asked whether Kashmiris should have the right to self-determination, he said: “What we want is for both India and Pakistan to sit down, with the Kashmiri people at the heart of things.”
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