If the silence of many local New Democrats in Surrey, B.C., over the slandering of their own federal leader by a local Hindu nationalist is any indication, the pro-India lobby is getting stronger in Canada.
Many local NDP representatives, who often come from trade unions and tout their philosophy of international solidarity, have failed to stand up against Parshotam Goel, who described Singh as “mentally retarded” and called for a “boycott” of the NDP’s federal leader during a press conference held in Surrey on Aug. 15 in response to a question about human rights for the people of Kashmir.
Repression in Kashmir
Goel is a supporter of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s actions in Kashmir, where the Indian government has recently intensified its military presence and repression after revoking the special status given to the state.
Phones and Internet services have been disrupted, as the region remains cut off from the rest of a country that claims Kashmir is an integral part. Kashmiri politicians have been detained, while physical violence continues to be applied to dissidents with impunity.
Modi and his supporters claim that the move was necessary to contain terrorism and violent struggle for an independent Kashmir. They have gone to the extent of labelling anyone who criticizes their approach to Kashmir as anti-national.
Goel is associated with the Laxminarayan Hindu temple in Surrey, which hosted Modi in 2015. During the Aug. 15 press conference to support the Modi government’s decision on Kashmir, Goel insulted Singh after being asked about a recent statement by the NDP leader criticizing the Modi government for “committing human rights violations in Kashmir.”
“He doesn’t deserve to be NDP leader,” Goel said about Singh when asked about Singh’s comments at the press conference by Omni TV reporter Haroon Gaffar. “I would especially tell the general public, boycott openly of such a mentally retarded person,” Goel added.
Earlier in August, the federal NDP had issued a statement on the repression in Kashmir:
New Democrats are deeply concerned by reports of the Indian government’s crackdown in recent days in Kashmir. The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently took steps to revoke section 370 of the Indian constitution, which granted Kashmir considerable autonomy, and moved to arrest top Kashmiri political leaders, deploy thousands of troops, impose a shutdown of telephone and internet services and restrict peaceful assembly.
Silence from B.C. NDP leaders
One month since the press conference, there has been no public reaction to Goel’s comments from most NDP MLAs in Surrey or Singh’s party.
Notably, some NDP MLAs are close to the Indian consulate and the lobby group known as Friends of India. They have frequently attended public events where Goel and officials of the Indian government were present. Recently, some of the MLAs participated in a series of events organized and sponsored by the Indian consulate, but they have stayed away from rallies and demonstrations held in solidarity with the people of Kashmir. They have even refused to make a statement on Kashmir, saying this is a federal matter. This despite the fact that NDP MLAs and MPPs in Alberta and Ontario have strongly spoken out against the oppression in Kashmir.
All this suggests how influential the pro-India lobby has become in Canadian politics. If the NDP, which claims to be a champion of social justice, cannot stand up for the underdog and even for its own leader, then there is something seriously wrong with its current crop of political leaders.