Keir Starmer has promised to reset relations between the Labour party and India after years of tension between the two.

The Labour leader said on Monday that his party had made mistakes in its approach to relations with the world’s most populous country, and that it would seek closer ties if elected to power next year.

Labour’s reputation in Delhi and among British Indian voters in the UK has slipped in recent years, not least because of the support by some in the party for the independence of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. Some UK Indians have also complained that the party has focused more on poorer inner-city Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities than on them.

Starmer told those attending the UK-India Week conference: “In the past Labour gave the impression we could only see the lives of people in communities who needed our support. But my Labour party understands that what working people in every community need is success, aspiration and security.”

He added: “There are lots of issues in the Labour party where, over the last two years, we have openly taken the decision to change our party to look out to the world in a different way – and to recognise when it comes to India, what an incredible, powerful, important country India is … and to ensure that we have the right relationship as we go forward.”

Labour’s relationship with India, and with Indian voters, has suffered in recent years as the government in Delhi has pursued an increasingly rightwing nationalist agenda, while Labour has been accused of taking sides with Pakistan in the dispute over Kashmir. There are 1.9 million British Indians, making them the largest minority ethnic group in the UK, and a potentially important source of votes in swing constituencies.

In 2019, the party sparked anger among Indian groups when it passed an emergency motion at its annual conference calling for international observers to be allowed into the territory, which is the subject of dispute between India and Pakistan. The party then wrote a letter clarifying that it would not take sides in the dispute.

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The incident accelerated a general drift by British Indian voters away from the Labour party. A study in 2021 found that in the previous decade the party had gone from 60% support among UK Indians to 40%, with Muslim voters far more likely to support Labour than Hindus.


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