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Concern in UK over BJP supporters, Hindu charity 'interfering' in general elections

By Our Representative
Following apprehensions of “foreign interference” in Canadian elections, which took place last month, from several countries, including India, a similar a concern is now reported with regard to the next month’s United Kingdom general elections. The concern has particularly come from Labour Party candidates, who are citing campaign by “India-linked Hindu nationalist group” targeting Labour candidates.
An Open Democracy (OD) report, quoted “campaigners” linked to BJP to say that they are “targeting 48 Labour-Tory marginals, also prompting fears of heightened ethnic tensions.” In fact, they have already “vowed to campaign on behalf of the Conservative Party – raising concerns about attempted foreign interference in next month’s UK general election”, the report added.
In July, Canadian had officials warned of potential election interference from the BJP government in Canada’s elections, which took place in October. In a report, the civil servants had accused India and China of trying to promote “sympathetic” candidates and spread “misinformation.”
International concern over Indian political “interference” reached a new height in September after Modi, heaping praise on beleaguered US President Donald Trump, said, “Abki bar Trump sarkar” -- asking a US NRI meet in Houston to back Trump in the next polls.
OD said, Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat, president of Overseas Friends of BJP UK (OFBJPUK) had imformed media that his campaign group was “planning to campaign in 48 marginal seats to help Conservative candidates”, leafleting in favour of Tory candidates, and speaking to people and persuading them to vote Tory.” 
The media outfit commented, “It is extremely unusual for a group explicitly tied to a foreign political party to openly declare its intent to campaign for a specific British political party during an election.”
It added, OFBJPUK was founded in 1992, and its current mission is to “spread a positive message of the BJP government in India”, especially in the light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi attracting “controversy and international condemnation by stripping the disputed territory of Kashmir of its semi-autonomous status.”
It is unusual for a group tied to a foreign political party to openly declare its intent to campaign for a specific British political party
OD said, according to ​Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who is standing to be re-elected as the Labour MP for Slough, “There has been a lot of talk in recent years about foreign external interference in elections and surely this is just another prime example of it.”
Insisting that the Labour Party was not “anti-India”, as some critics had claimed, Dhesi added, “Unlike what some people may try to portray, the Labour Party is not anti-India, anti-Pakistan, or anti anyone else. We merely stand up for and have always stood up for the human rights of all – regardless of background, colour or creed.”
Labour’s Lisa Nandy, who is standing for re-election in Wigan, told OD: “The idea that the BJP is going to have any sort of campaign presence on the ground and make any inroads here is somewhat ridiculous. People in Wigan wouldn’t take kindly to being told what to do by Manchester, let alone India.”
Meanwhile, OD quoted official sources in the Charity Commission as expressing concern that OFBJPUK had been in talks with Hindu temples in UK about campaigning on behalf of Conservative candidates.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: “The public expect charities to be driven by their purpose and representing their beneficiaries at all times, which is all the more important in this intense political environment. Charities must never engage in party political activity.”
According to OD, the Charity Commission had intervened in the issue of political activity by Hindu temples before. “Just before the 2015 and 2017 general elections, the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT) sent out emails urging Hindus to vote Conservative. The Charity Commission intervened on both occasions and forced the NCHT to withdraw its advice.”

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