Labour MP and candidate for Ealing Southall Virendra Sharma has been caught in the middle of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan during his election campaign. The Indian-origin MP has angered members of both the Indian and Pakistani diaspora in his constituency with his remarks on the cross-border dispute.
During a parliamentary debate on January 19, Sharma condemned Pakistan for supporting Indian-occupied Kashmir and said that India was facing a terror threat from across the border.
He later issued an apology to Pakistanis and Kashmiris over his original comments linking Pakistan with terrorism but still faced protesters campaigning against him after he announced his candidacy.
As the protest grew across Southall, Sharma appeared at the Townsend Road Mosque with a group of Pakistani and Sikh community leaders and issued an apology stating that "Pakistan is not harbouring terrorist groups or sponsoring terrorism".
Sharma said in his apology, “What I have said, I feel that has hurt the community. I withdraw those words. Pakistan is not harbouring terrorists and the community. I say so and feel that way that Pakistan is not harbouring terrorists and not sponsoring terrorism, I apologise and withdraw my words.”
Sharma also tried last month to bring the focus back to Britain and local issues. “This is a British election, and we should be debating British values, not old community conflicts, ancient arguments and squabbles from half a world away and half a century ago,” he said.
However, after his statement that ‘Pakistan was not harbouring terrorists’, he faced opposition from the Indian community.
"Given your seniority as a long-standing British Indian-origin member of Parliament and that you hold various posts ostensibly promoting UK-India relations, your comments are totally at odds with everything we have tirelessly worked on over many years. Why?" questioned Manoj Ladwa, a senior Labour party member and political communications strategist, in a letter to the MP.
"I would strongly urge you to make an urgent public and written statement clarifying your position and that of the Labour party before this issue spirals any further," said Ladwa, CEO of the UK-based media house - India Inc.