Tuesday, 29 May 2012

MBE aye, MBE naw

A guest post today from @PaulHutcheon

By Paul Hutcheon

A LABOUR councillor in Glasgow is facing calls to be stripped of his MBE after he made “crass and insensitive” claims about Sikhs and Indians.

Hanif Raja, who received his honour for services to “inter-faith relations”, accused both communities of trying to block his election over his support for Kashmir.

The remarks have been condemned by the ‘Sikhs in Scotland’ organisation and have triggered a complaint to the UK Government’s honours committee.
Immediately after his election this month, Raja gave an interview at the count to Pakistan television network Geo TV on his victorious campaign.
The Kashmiri-born politician, comfortably returned on the Labour slate in Pollokshields, told the broadcaster that his success had come in spite of problems from Sikhs and Indians.
Although he spoke in Urdu, four separate translations confirming his incendiary claims.
One translation has Raja saying: “I have been presented with so many obstacles from the Sikh and Indian community. I got a backlash when I went to them for votes.
“They said to me ‘we can’t support you because you support Kashmir’. I said to them ‘if you don’t want to give me the vote because of this then fine, this is my ideology I won’t ever compromise on this’.”
Another translation stated: “I had many obstacles from the Sikh and Indian community. I had a backlash when I approached them in connection with the votes.
“They said that because you support Kashmir we will not give you our votes. I said this is my personal issue and I refuse to compromise on this.”
The comments have enraged Glasgow’s Sikh community, as the future of Kashmir is one of the world’s most toxic disputes.
In 1947, the region was carved up and administered by three countries: India, Pakistan and China.
India and Pakistan have staked claims to the disputed territory, while a self-determination movement also exists.
Raja backs a referendum on Kashmir’s future and has been critical of Indian involvement in the region.
He once raised a Holyrood petition criticising “occupation forces in Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir”.
Anoop Wallia, spokesman for Sikhs in Scotland, said the TV comments were “totally absurd”, adding: “I think it quite ridiculous that he brings this issue up at all. We are actually very lucky here. There is no animosity. We work together on all sort of aspects of things.”
Wallia said that the group had written to the Cabinet Office’s ‘honours and appointments secretariat’, calling for the MBE Raja was awarded last year to be revoked.
David Meikle, a Tory councillor who was elected in the same ward as Raja, said Kashmir had not come up once on the doorsteps:

Councillor Hanif Raja: "crass and insensitve"
“It is extraordinary that a Labour councillor who represents one of the most diverse wards in Glasgow made such crass and insensitive comments about the Sikh and Indian community. “I’m also surprised he said this because I’m not aware of it being an issue in the area.”
After his election, Raja was appointed as one of the council’s bailies - a ceremonial position that allows him to support the Lord Provost at events.
The former bankrupt was also appointed to the council’s regeneration and economic policy development committee.This was in spite of him signing a personal bond in January to repay an £18,000 debt to the council.
After being read one of the translations, Raja denied making the comments.
“It’s a wrong statement, I think you’ve got the wrong translation,” he said.
However, after Scottish Labour was contacted about the row, Raja’s position changed.
“I would like to apologise for any offence caused. What I said was clumsily worded, and I should have phrased it much better,” he said.
An SNP spokesperson said: “Scotland is blessed with diverse communities and a shared Scottish identity, and Mr Raja’s comments about people based on their faith and nationality are insensitive and unhelpful.”