Rajiv Gandhi’s query helped ‘fade away’ UK Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir: Report

Srinagar: A ‘Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir’ in London was made to “fade away” after former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi raised concern over its formation during the April 1985 visit to New Delhi of his British counterpart, Margaret Thatcher.

Classified documents released by National Archives on Friday demonstrate the tenuous nature of such ‘committees’ formed by UK-based groups politically opposed to India, comprising MPs whose constituencies have many voters of Pakistan origin, reported the Hindustan Times.

The ‘committee’ objected to by Gandhi was formed following the visit to the UK of “a prominent Kashmiri from the Pakistani side of the cease-fire line”, the Foreign Office told 10 Downing Street on May 7, 1985. It “has no formal status”, the note adds.

The four MPs on the ‘committee’ were Gary Waller, Peter Thurnham, Roy Galley (all Conservative) and Barry Sheerman (Labour).

The note says: “We do not know how active the Committee is likely to prove: one of four members, Mr Galley, has confided to us that he is a reluctant member who joined because of the number of Kashmiris in his constituency. We suspect the same may be true of the other members”.

An investigation revealed that the ‘committee’ was formed by Thurnham’s research assistant, “who wrote to 60 MPs on Mr Thurnham’s stationary without the latter’s permission”. When the MP discovered this, he wrote to the MPs that his assistant “had gone further than he had been authorised”, the HT report said.

A note of May 28, 1985 says: “Mr Thurnham has said that, so far as he is concerned, the Committee no longer exists”.

The British high commission in New Delhi was told to inform Gandhi’s private secretary that the ‘committee’ was the “work of an over-active research assistant rather than MP: it was never formally constituted and it can now be regarded as non-existent”.

C D Powell, Thatcher’s adviser, wrote on another note that “the less fuss made about it, the sooner the ‘committee’ is likely to fade away”, asking the Foreign Office minister to speak to MPs on the ‘committee’ and “explain to them in confidence the problems which their participation on this Committee causes”.

“While it may well not be possible to persuade them to leave it, they might come to see there would be advantage in allowing it to become dormant”, Powell wrote.

The theme of British MPs with large number of Pakistan-origin constituents raising issues opposed to Indian interests was most recently reiterated by Foreign Office minister in the Theresa May government, Mark Field, who criticised Labour’s policy of viewing the Jammu and Kashmir issue through the prism of human rights.

Field told London-based Indian journalists: “I’m afraid the Labour party’s current view is driven by expedience, not least because they see that issue in the perspective of a significant number of people who are supporters of their party, who live now in the UK, from Pakistan administered Kashmir”.

“I think the dangerous thing particularly is to play to the gallery of small numbers of voters”, he added.

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