Keith Vaz and his Support of Hindu Nationalism

In contrast to moderate social democratic politicians like Jeremy Corbyn, and in sharp distinction to the Labour Party’s own membership, the vast majority of elected Labour Party MPs are best described as capitalists rather than socialists. This is unfortunately true of most of Leicester’s many Labour councillors, and until the recent replacement of Keith Vaz with Claudia Webbe, this was true of all our city’s three Labour MPs (the other two being Jonathan Ashworth and Liz Kendall).

Keith Vaz’s anti-democratic stranglehold over his Leicester East constituency has been longstanding, policking in this fairly impoverished part of the city from 1987 until his eventual fall from parliamentary grace in 2019. But he refuses to leave the political arena, and amazingly still serves as the chairman of the Leicester East Constituency Labour Party; and earlier this year Vaz acted as Labour’s “campaign coordinator” during a local byelection with his face adorning many of the leaflets that were shoved through peoples’ doors.

Vaz of course remains famous in Leicester for many reasons, and although he was first elected on a socialist ticket in the late eighties, it didn’t take long for him to reveal himself as a careerist who would rather promote the needs of big business and imperialist wars than defend the needs of all of his working-class constituents. (For more on this, read “The Secret of Keith Vaz’s Life of War.”)

Part of Vaz’s relentless careerism and political opportunism has meant that he supports the far-right Hindu-nationalist government led by Narendra Modi. Vaz’s strong support for Modi is however no secret, and so when Modi was re-elected in May 2019, Vaz attended a celebration party at a local temple which was reported on in the local press. Indeed, Vaz’s uncritical embrace of India’s far-right government has only acted further divide our communities, and his actions have sown much political confusion in a city where the leadership of the local Labour Party have, in recent years anyway, been more concerned with attacking Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist ideals than in presenting a political alternative to Tory austerity.

Now with the recent outbreak of communal violence in our city — violence that can be traced to earlier gang attacks that took place some months ago (in May) — Vaz’s own political interventions should not be overlooked when seeking to understand how we might best overcome Leicester’s problems.

But notably Vaz’s name has been completely missing from all public commentary on Leicester’s recent problems. The closest Vaz has come to the press has been when one of his close colleagues, a Hindu businessman named Dharmesh Lakhani has been interviewed — this being the same individual who in 2017 served as one of Vaz’s parliamentary agents for Belgrave. In his most recent interview Lakhani argued (amongst other things) that it would be counterproductive to name some of the far-right Hindu nationalist groups that have been involved in provoking Leicester’s violence. As he put it: “why give these people, the RSS, or whoever it is, a platform or importance by naming them? We live in the UK, and any ideology from abroad should stay there.”

But Vaz’s enduring and uncritical embrace of the far-right Indian government in power have already given Hindu nationalists a significant platform in our city. And although Vaz’s name has yet to be mentioned, in an important interview undertaken in the wake of Leicester’s violence, local resident and volunteer board member of Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND), Shokhat Adam Patel, recalled a troubling incident from 2017/18 that related very much to Vaz’s toxic politics. Patel explained

“I will give you one example to when I was first alerted to what is happening in India was being transported to my city, when there was an application going for a building to be converted into a madrassa — a religious institution. Now, to have a madrassa or a mosque in an area can have plenty of legitimate objections. As a Muslim myself, if somebody wanted to build a mosque next door to me, I may object on the grounds of noise or car parking that there isn’t enough space etc. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But when the objection goes up onto our official Leicester City Council web site and reams and reams of them are on one single factor, ‘we do not want Muslims living amongst Hindus’. ‘We do not want men who abuse and rape our women within our vicinity’. ‘We do not want terrorists living next to us’. This was kept up, to their shame, on the Leicester City Council web site for days. And at that time, I saw the pollicisation of it because the MP, off the record, who was trying to curry favour of his constituents said ‘look guys why don’t you build you mosque in a Muslim area and let them have their temple in a Hindu area’. This is ghettoization of the entire community, divide and rule, and it was only going to end up in the scenes that we see today. This is from our authorities…”

The dubious MP in question was of course Mr Vaz. And as I reported at the time, Vaz’s intervention into this issue…

“… began when members of his constituency in Belgrave ward contacted him about a planning proposal to convert a small disused warehouse on Belper Street into a Muslim nursery/education centre. Quick to take action on limited issues, Vaz then convened a mass meeting (of nearly 400 people), whereupon he threw his full support behind the local opposition to the proposal. Here it is noteworthy to recall that Vaz had done something similar in 2012 when he publicly backed another campaign elsewhere in his constituency which was opposed to the conversion of a disused Scout hut into a Muslim community centre. In both instances Vaz threw his support behind the protestors without raising the need for progressive socialist alternatives that could unite rather than divide communities.

We might also observe that in Vaz’s latest political intervention, he took the decision to chair a massive public meeting opposing the proposal before the Council’s planning officers had even had a chance to make any formal recommendations vis-a-vis the application. (The Council’s officers have since said they oppose the development.) Furthermore, we might also note that the normal democratic channel for taking up concerns with planning proposals is through local councillors not MPs. In Belgrave ward there are three councillors, all of whom represent the Labour Party (Cllr Mansukhlal Chohan, Cllr John Thomas, and Cllr Manjula Sood who is also the Assistant City Mayor for Communities & Equalities).

Thus after Vaz chaired the meeting he sent out a one page letter (on December 4) to many of his concerned constituents wherein he explained that he had “written again to Leicester City Council to tell them that I oppose the application and to ask the planning committee to refuse the application.” Vaz added that two other Belgrave ward councillors supported him, Cllr Thomas and Cllr Sood, as did his “two Parliamentary Agents for Belgrave, Padmini Chumund and Dharmesh Lakhani.” He even promised that when the Council’s planning committee came together to discuss the proposal in December (a meeting taking place this Wednesday — December 13), “I will return early from Westminster for this meeting to be clear to the Council that I oppose what is being proposed.”

Hard questions need to be asked about Vaz’s political influence in Leicester, and they need to be asked now.

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