Explained: The growing menace of Khalistan in the United Kingdom

The attack on the High Commission comes just a month after a review of the UK's anti-terrorism scheme flagged ‘potentially toxic’ pro-Khalistan extremism as an area of concern. This isn’t the first time India has had cause for concern about Khalistani separatists in the UK

FP Explainers March 20, 2023 15:40:58 IST
Explained: The growing menace of Khalistan in the United Kingdom

Officials from the mission said the "attempted but failed" attack had been foiled and that the Tricolour was now flying "grander". Image courtesy: Twitter/ @IndianSinghh

The attack on the Indian High Commission in London on Sunday evening is just the latest example of the growing Khalistan menace in the UK.

Officials from the mission said the “attempted but failed” attack had been foiled and that the Tricolour was now flying “grander”.

The development comes amid the banned terrorist group Sikhs For Justice conducting a so-called “Referendum 2020” amid a crackdown on pro-Khalistan leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab.

Let’s take a closer look:

What happened?

Images of shattered windows and men climbing the India House building were circulating on social media.

Videos from the scene show an Indian official grabbing the flag from a protester through the first-floor window of the mission, while the protester is seen waving a Khalistan flag hanging off its ledge.

The Metropolitan Police said two members of security staff sustained minor injuries which did not require hospital treatment. An investigation has been launched.

Scotland Yard said it was called to reports of disorder on Sunday afternoon and that a man has been arrested as its enquiries continue.

“Windows were broken at the High Commission building,” the Metropolitan Police statement said.

“Officers attended the location. The majority of those present had dispersed prior to the arrival of police. An investigation was launched, and one male was arrested nearby a short time later on suspicion of violent disorder. Enquiries continue,” the statement said.

Review flags ‘potentially toxic’ pro-Khalistan extremism

The incident comes just a month after a review into the United Kingdom government’s anti-terrorism scheme flagged areas of concern including “potentially toxic” pro-Khalistan extremism.

The review warned of a false narrative being disseminated by a tiny number of pro-Khalistan groups operating in the UK.

“There is an element of crossover between those who seek to impose limits around blasphemy with those who voice incendiary rhetoric on Kashmir.”

“I have seen evidence of UK extremist groups, as well as a Pakistani cleric with a UK following, calling for the use of violence in Kashmir. I have also seen evidence demonstrating that flashpoints related to Kashmir lead to a significant surge in interest from UK Islamists,” reads the review.

On the issue of pro-Khalistan extremism, the report adds, “Prevent should also be mindful of pro-Khalistan extremism emerging from the UK’s Sikh communities. A false narrative is disseminated by the tiny number of pro-Khalistan groups operating in the UK that the government is colluding with its counterpart in India to persecute Sikhs.”

“Such groups’ narratives glorify violence carried out by the pro-Khalistan movement in India. While the current threat is low, praise for violence overseas and a simultaneous belief in a state-led campaign of repression domestically is a potentially toxic combination for the future.”

India and the UK had in April 2022 set up a task force on countering extremist elements such as pro-Khalistan groups operating in Britain.

Then British prime minister Boris Johnson had said that his country does not tolerate such elements.

To a question on concerns in India over Khalistani elements operating from the UK, Johnson said his country has a “very strong view” on extremist groups.

“We have a very strong view on it in the UK. We don’t tolerate extremist groups setting up in the UK with a view to threatening other countries, threatening India.

Explained The growing menace of Khalistan in the United Kingdom
Boris Johnson had said the UK doesn’t tolerate extremist groups. AP

“What we have done particularly as a result of this visit is set up an anti-extremism task force to see what more we can do to help India in that aspect,” he said.

India takes up ‘serious concerns with UK’

New Delhi in November 2022 expressed to London ‘grave concerns’ about letting Sikhs for Justice organize a referendum on the secession of Punjab on 31 October, as per Hindustan Times.

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval told his counterpart Stephen Lovegrove that the Indian government ‘takes strong exception’ to the UK allowing a referendum on affairs of a third country by weaponising a minuscule section of the Indian diaspora.

The message was sent during a bilateral strategic dialogue on 3 November in London.

The referendum itself fizzled with just a few people turning out in downtown London, as per the newspaper.

UK backpedals after diplomatic row

In August 2018, the UK government had to backtrack after a pro-Khalistan rally held by Sikh separatist groups at London’s Trafalgar Square

Hundreds of people turned out at Trafalgar Square in support of a pro-Khalistan rally as well as to counter the event with an Independence Day celebration.

Pro-Khalistani supporters shouted slogans such as ‘Khalistan Zindabad’ and waved anti-India placards.

Pakistani-origin House of Lords peer Lord Nazir Ahmed was among the key speakers for the group.

Ahmed was in February 2022 found guilty of sexual offences against two children in the 1970s.

Ahmed of Rotherham was convicted of a serious sexual assault against a boy and the attempted rape of a young girl.

Sheffield Crown Court heard the repeated sexual abuse happened in Rotherham when he was a teenager.

The so-called ‘London Declaration on Referendum 2020’ rally, organised by Sikhs for Justice on 12 August triggered a diplomatic row as India had warned the UK to take bilateral ties into consideration before allowing groups that “propagate violence, secessionism and hatred” to demonstrate.

The comment followed reports of letters exchanged between Sikhs for Justice and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the “campaign for Sikh self-determination”.

Turning down the prospect of a “short meeting” sought by Sikhs for Justice with UK government representatives to raise concerns of the Sikh community, the FCO said it “encouraged all involved parties to resolve any differences through dialogue”.

“The UK is rightly proud of the long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and demonstrate their views,” the letter dated 17 August from the unnamed ‘Desk Officer for India’ at the FCO states.

“The British government acknowledges the strength of feeling in the Sikh community regarding the events of 1984, including events at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. We encourage all states to ensure that their domestic laws meet international human rights standards,” it adds.

Scotland Yard, which had confirmed that an “appropriate and proportionate policing plan” will be in place for the demonstrations at Trafalgar Square, maintained a watchful eye over the proceedings, which remained largely peaceful with no face-offs being allowed to get out of control by vigilant police officers.

A UK government spokesperson had allowed the rally to go ahead, saying that “in the UK people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law”.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had issued a statement expressing its disappointment at the stance.

“We have said that it seeks to propagate violence, secessionism and hatred and we expect them to take into account the larger perspective of the relationship when they take a decision on such matters,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said.

Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) said its rally is intended to raise awareness for a non-binding referendum in 2020, calling for the Sikh-majority state of Punjab to be granted independence.

Rami Ranger, Chairman of the British Sikh Association, dismissed the rally as a move by a “handful of unelected and self-appointed Sikhs” and that Sikhs at large remained “against disunity”.

Anti-India protesters demonstrate outside London House

Pro-India and anti-India protesters in January 2018 faced off outside India House in London to raise slogans and wave flags and placards.

Ahmed once again led the anti-India protest campaign.

The Indian High Commission in London branded the protest as a “desperate attempt by a disgraced politician” who had been suspended from the Labour party in 2013 following an anti-semitism row.

Members of the Indian diaspora in the city had mobilised a ‘Chalo India House’ demonstration to counter Ahmed’s plans and a few dozen members on both sides tried to shout at each other down outside the Indian High Commission building as Scotland Yard officers stood guard.

‘Unacceptable’, says India, summons dy High Commissioner

India on Sunday night summoned the British deputy high commissioner and demanded an explanation over the complete “absence of security” after videos of pulling down of the Indian flag at the Indian mission in London during a protest by pro-Khalistan elements emerged on social media.

India has, meanwhile, registered its strong protest with the British government over the safety of its diplomatic mission and questioned the lack of sufficient security at the premises.

In a strongly-worded statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India finds “unacceptable” the indifference of the UK government to the security of Indian diplomatic premises and personnel in the UK.

British Deputy High Commissioner Christina Scott was summoned to the MEA in view of the incident as High Commissioner Alex Ellis was out of Delhi, sources said.

Explained The growing menace of Khalistan in the United Kingdom
MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi. ANI

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said the senior-most UK diplomat in New Delhi was summoned late evening on Sunday to convey India’s “strong protest” at the actions taken by separatist and extremist elements against the Indian High Commission in London.

“An explanation was demanded for the complete absence of the British security that allowed these elements to enter the High Commission premises. She was reminded in this regard of the basic obligations of the UK Government under the Vienna Convention,” the MEA said in a statement.

“India finds unacceptable the indifference of the UK government to the security of Indian diplomatic premises and personnel in the UK. It is expected that the UK Government would take immediate steps to identify, arrest and prosecute each one of those involved in today’s incident, and put in place stringent measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” it said.

‘Will take security seriously’

Top British officials said tthe UK government will take the security of the Indian High Commission here “seriously”.

The officials condemned as “disgraceful” and “completely unacceptable” the vandalism at the mission by a group of protesters waving separatist Khalistani flags.

The banned terrorist organisation, Sikhs For Justice, is conducting a so-called “Referendum 2020” amid a crackdown on pro-Khalistan leader Amritpal Singh in Punjab.

Responding to the incident, London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said he condemned “the violent disorder and vandalism that took place”.

“There is no place in our city for this kind of behaviour,” he tweeted.

The British High Commissioner to India Alex Ellis described the incident as “disgraceful” and “totally unacceptable”.

Foreign Office minister Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon said he was “appalled” and the government would take the security of the Indian High Commission “seriously”.

“This is a completely unacceptable action against the integrity of the Mission and its staff,” he tweeted.

With inputs from agencies

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