Messages urging British Hindus to vote against Labour in the general election are being circulated on WhatsApp, raising concerns about the chat app’s role in spreading divisive political content.
Sky News has seen more than 20 separate messages shared on WhatsApp using the app’s “forward” function.
One begins by saying: “Pass this to every TRUE Indian,” before going on to claim that “there are now no excuses left for any Indian to still be with the Labour Party”.
Another accuses Labour of being “anti-India and anti-Hindu”, calling on “all India sympathisers” to “defeat Labour candidates from as many seats as possible”.
A third suggests talking points to “confront” Labour candidates with on the doorstep, including asking why, in Pakistan, “Hindu minor girls are, on a daily basis, being abducted and forcibly converted to Islam and married to Muslims?”
Labour candidates warned that the messages were stoking division and risked inciting violence.
“Lots of people when they receive a WhatsApp message, they see that as the truth,” said Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi.
“This is becoming increasingly prevalent and that is extremely worrying.”
It is not known where the messages originated or how far they have spread, but Sky News has seen them posted inside a local Conservative Association group on WhatsApp.
On Sunday, 27 October, Sushil Dokwal, a member of Brent North Conservatives who stood as a councillor in 2018, posted a message into the party’s local WhatsApp group saying “Sadiq and Corbin [sic] are against Jews, Hindus and following hidden agenda of jihadis.”
Asked about the message over WhatsApp, Mr Dokwal said: “This was posted to me and I posted to my colleague to know what is happening. If true then study it and may be to learn from it.”
A Conservative spokesperson told Sky News: “This matter is under investigation by the party.”
Many of the messages refer to Kashmir, the Indian-administered region stripped of autonomy by India’s Hindu Nationalist government, an order known as Article 370.
One accuses Labour of having “blindly supported Pakistan’s propaganda against the issue of Article 370 in Kashmir which is India’s internal matter”.
Another says Labour is “a mouth piece for Pakistan”.
A second Labour candidate, who did not want to be named, told Sky News the tension over this issue had escalated recently.
“What’s different now is widespread WhatsApping of messages and use of the Kashmir issue as a wedge issue,” he said.
Last month, Labour’s conference unanimously passed a motion claiming a “major humanitarian crisis” was taking place in Kashmir and calling for humanitarian observers to enter the region.
Immediately after that motion, messages began circulating on WhatsApp saying: “TODAY IS A BLACK DAY for all Indians & British Indians,” adding “there can be no compromise on this matter”.
Mr Dhesi told Sky News the motion was not official party policy and that the party leadership was looking into it.
“I appreciate the wording of the emergency motion on Kashmir has caused some division within the party and community, which many of us have discussed,” he said.
“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.”
The messages expose the increasing influence of Hindu nationalism on British politics, where it often finds common cause with the far right.
One video shared widely on WhatsApp – including by Mr Dokwal in his conservative association group – shows political commentator Katie Hopkins in the midst of a pro-Pakistan demonstration, where she claims to be being attacked and harassed by Muslim demonstrators.
Rashmi Mishra, an activist who works with a pro-India activist group called Reach India, said she had shared the video many times, without hesitation.
“We are trying to see that India is well represented in this country, because too many gaps can be seen in the policy of the Labour Party.
“I was a Labour supporter, and I have been voting for them – my kids would kill me if I said I didn’t vote for them.
“But they have been voting and organising meetings against India, against Kashmir.
“You are not supposed to interfere in Indian matters and the narrative of India and Kashmir has been changed, because it is filled by people of Pakistan origin.”
Asked about Ms Hopkins’ video, Ms Mishra told Sky News: “That was the first information that came [from the demonstration] and I was like, forward, forward, forward.
“She’s controversial, but many of us admire her for what she did that day.”
During May’s Indian election, WhatsApp was used as a vehicle for misinformation and propaganda, with polarising political news and rumours spreading rapidly thanks to forwarding to groups.
The Facebook-owned app responded by limiting how often messages can be forwarded – to only five groups instead of 20. It later extended this restriction worldwide.
A WhatApp spokesperson told Sky News:
“WhatsApp is absolutely committed to helping to tackle the problem of viral misinformation… we will continue to prioritise the development of new ways to help to address this issue in the future.”
The news of the messages come after reports that supporters of India’s governing nationalist party will be actively campaigning for the Conservative Party in 48 marginal seats at this election.
Mr Dhesi told Sky News: “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.”
Under the Radar is a Sky News project to investigate online political activity throughout the election, from targeted ads to disinformation
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