A national Hindu charity is being investigated by the Charity Commission after it warned its members to be wary of the Labour party and spoke warmly about the Conservatives, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT), which acts as an umbrella organisation for Hindu temples across the UK, has released a strongly worded open letter "to all members of the Dharmic faiths" (Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism) and "members of all British religious traditions" which suggests that the Labour party and Liberal Democrats have failed the Hindu community.
The letter admits that the charity has "remained fiercely distant from and independent of the political arena and has discouraged its member temples from participating in or being used as a platform for conventional political purposes". However, it says, "It is with regret that we have to advise that this can no longer remain the case."
The letter, posted on the organisation's website, is signed by Satish Sharma, the charity's general secretary. It cites a statement by one of its volunteers, who is quoted as saying: "British Hindus, Sikhs & Jains voting for Labour is now like turkeys voting for Christmas".
In particular, the letter appears to oppose an amendment to the Equality Act proposed by a Labour MP which would ban discrimination on grounds of caste.
The open letter argues that the amendment was based on "falsified data" and "generated a wholly unjustified wave of anti-Hindu outrage and indignation". The fact that Labour and the Lib Dems are promising to legislate on the issue, it adds, "is tantamount to religious persecution of Hindus, Sikhs & Jains".
The letter insists that it "is NOT a recommendation for members of the Dharmic communities to vote for a particular party but it would be unfair not to recognise that the Conservative party is the only principal party which has rejected the process whereby this legislation was forced thru [sic]."
It then repeats – in a section highlighted in red – that the Conservatives are "the only party which has consistently listened to us and voted against this legislation and whose members are committed to repealing the caste amendment if re-elected".
According to the 2015 British Election Study, 58% of British Hindus plan to vote for Labour, while 31% plan to vote Conservative.
Although charities can lobby political parties, the guidance issued by the Charity Commission guidance states that they cannot legally give their support to any party and must be seen as independent.
The president of the group, Rashmikant Joshi, told BuzzFeed News that the letter had been sent out by Sharma without any of the executive committee members agreeing to it.
Joshi said: "This [the letter] is an individual's opinion. None of the members of NCHT is endorsing it because it would be wrong for us to tell people to vote for one party or another.
"And that is clearly what the letter states."
Joshi said he did not know how many of the NCHT's member organisations had been sent the letter.
It in unclear whether the charity has broken any rules, but online commentators have compared the letter to a recent case in which a London mayor was charged after asking imams to endorse his campaign.
Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, was charged with fixing his re-election campaign by exerting "undue spiritual influence" and working with imams to tell members of the congregation how to vote.
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission told BuzzFeed News that the regulator "will be contacting the charity to establish the facts of this matter as a matter of urgency":
Charity Commission guidance on campaigning and political activity makes clear that a charity must not give its support to any political party or candidate and that all charities must ensure that their independence is maintained, and perceptions of independence are not adversely affected.
As charity regulator we expect charity trustees to take account of this fundamental requirement as a core part of their decision making processes. The Commission will decide what action, if any, is required once the charity has responded.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Satish Sharma for comment.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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