Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood
A SENIOR Labour MP has been criticised for his “very ill informed” and “offensive” comments about India’s human rights record on a national radio programme.
Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham Perry Barr claimed that India had a ‘far worse record’ on human rights than Saudi Arabia whilst being interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last Saturday (24).
Mahmood was on the programme to defend the government’s decision to fly flags at half-mast on public buildings following the death of King Abdullah last Friday (23).
Prominent British Indians reacted angrily at the comments, and the Indian High Commission said Mahmood, who is also the secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Saudi Arabia, was “seriously misinformed”.
Critics were angered by the government’s gesture because of Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, its treatment of women and the way it stages public beheadings.
Mahmood said critics had double standards on the issue.
“Either we decide we want to nothing to do with them at all and then step back. But other countries we deal with have similar record and (we) continue to deal with; India for once, who’ve had a far worse record in dealing with minorities and religious minorities, abuse and human rights issues,” said Mahmood,
“So we carry on dealing with those because they are big, major trading nation. So why do we have double standards on these issues?”
Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who was on the programme speaking against the decision to fly flags for the late Saudi King, said in reply to Mahmood’s comments: “I would take issue with with the point that this is comparable to India. India doesn’t conduct public beheadings and use mutilating punishments, so I think there is a difference here.”
Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North and chair of Labour Friends of India heard the programme live and spoken to Mahmood afterwards about his “offensive” comments.
He told Eastern Eye: “I have already spoken to Mr Mahmood and left him in no doubt that I thought his remarks were offensive and very ill-informed. I was only pleased that the other guest on the programme corrected him at the time, pointing out that India, unlike Saudi Arabia has a good record on human rights and did not sanction public beheadings or amputations. In discussion with me, Mr Mahmood had to accept that this was indeed the case.”
A spokesman from the Indian high Commission told Eastern Eye: “The Honourable MP (Mahmood) is seriously misinformed about the human rights record in India.
“As for the national mourning observed by India, it has been a practice followed by the Government of India to observe national mourning on such occasions.”
He added that India has maintained “close and friendly relations” with Saudi Arabia under the leadership of King Abdullah because of the presence of the large expatriate Indian community there.
Dr Rami Ranger, a prominent British Indian businessman who is the founder of the Sun Mark food firm told EE he was “appalled” by the comments.
“I considered Khalid to be fair man but with such unreasonable and unsubstantiated comments, it appears his senses have taken leave,” he said.
“Ironically, he was also elected with the help of votes of the people of Indian origin and to insult them with incorrect statement can only imply that he is more interested to receive generous Saudi hospitality than what India can afford to provide.”
He added: “To compare a secular democratic country, India, where equality for all is enshrined in the constitution regardless of race, religion or gender to a religious dictatorship which does not treat its own citizens, especially women as equals speaks volumes about Khalid Mahmood MP.”
Mahmood did not respond to EE when asked for a comment.