The United Kingdom government has tendered an apology on Thursday after Indian authorities complained that protesters pulled down, tore and stamped on the Indian flag outside the Parliament Square. The protesters were demonstrating against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit.
A few protests against atrocities in India turned violent after the tricolour was torn down from one of the official flagpoles set up for all 53 Commonwealth countries. "We have expressed our concerns with the British authorities and they have apologised for the incident. We have been warning against some of these elements out to make trouble and they have assured us of action. The Indian flag has now been replaced," a senior Indian official associated with the prime minister's visit said.
"Protests and demonstrations are part and parcel of any democratic society as long as they remain peaceful. There are now concerns that some of the more aggressive elements hijacked the tone of the protests", the official added.
The Metropolitan Police had issued a statement saying that "Police is investigating the incident in Parliament Square where the Indian flag was pulled down at 15.00 (UK time) on Wednesday, 18 April. The flag has been replaced. There have been no arrests. Enquiries continue."
A UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokesperson said, "While people have the right to hold peaceful protests, we are disappointed with the action taken by a small minority in Parliament Square and contacted high commissioner Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha as soon as we were made aware. "The visit to the UK by Prime Minister Modi has strengthened our relationship with India and we look forward to working even more closely together on a number of important areas."
A senior broadcast journalist from one of the leading Indian media channels covering the protests was caught in a violent scrum with some of the more aggressive pro-Khalistani protesters and Scotland Yard officers on duty had to step-in to the rescue. The group is planning to file a complaint with the Metropolitan Police on the incident.
Ashis Ray, president of the Indian Journalists Association (IJA) raised the issue of attacks on journalists with Scotland Yard and the foreign office and called on the police to book the assailants. He said in a statement: “Reports of intimidation against and manhandling of a few of our members by political protesters in central London on 18 April have been brought to our notice. IJA’s constitution obliges the organisation to defend the right of our members to freely discharge their professional duties. “Therefore, IJA strongly condemns the threats and violence faced by concerned members from anti-India demonstrators. We also call upon the British police to bring to book wrongdoers upon receiving any complaint on the matter from our members.”
The pro-Khalistani demonstrators from Sikh Federation UK and demonstrators from the so-called "Minorities Against Modi" group, led by Pakistani-origin peer Lord Ahmed, were among nearly 500 protesters who descended upon Parliament Square. These included groups led by some Kashmiri separatist groups and at one point, some of them had surrounded the Mahatma Gandhi statue at the square with their banners and flags.
On the other side, the anti-Modi protesters from Caste Watch UK and South Asia Solidarity group waved banners such as 'Modi, you have blood on your hands' and 'Modi Not Welcome'.
"Hindu nationalism must be curtailed to avert India sliding towards wholesale dictatorship threatening democratic fabric, rule of law and the unity of India," a Caste Watch UK spokesperson said.
They were joined by other protestors carrying images the eight-year-old rape victim from Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir, and Gauri Lankesh, the Indian journalist who was shot at her doorstep last year. The group also included representatives of several Indian women's groups in the UK, wearing white as part of their silent protest against “atrocities that are taking place in India”. "I am Hindustan, I am ashamed," read their placards alongside banners such as 'Beti Bachao' and 'Politics minus rape'.
While the protests were on in Parliament Square and Downing Street, British prime minister Theresa May did not respond inside Parliament to a ruling party MP who asked her to condemn messages by anti-India groups against Modi on customised vans moving around central London.
According to Hindustan Times, Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman asked May: “Will my right hon. friend take the opportunity to condemn absolutely the mobile billboards that are going around London attacking our good friend Prime Minister Modi, and will she congratulate and thank the 1.7 million members of the Indian diaspora on their contribution to the work of this country?” May did not mention the anti-Modi billboards, but said: "India is indeed a good friend of the UK, and the Indian diaspora here in the UK plays an enormous role and makes an enormous contribution to our society and our economy.” She added, "When I spoke to Prime Minister Modi, we discussed how we can encourage and increase the links and development between our two countries."
Afzal Khan, Labour MP from Manchester, mentioned the protests and asked her: “This week, the UK becomes the chair of the Commonwealth. Many of us will have walked past demonstrations outside Parliament on the issue of Kashmir, and I understand that the prime minister will be presented with a petition. “The stalemate in the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan has failed to deliver any solution to this major nuclear flashpoint. How will she use the UK’s new position to boldly pursue peace and human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir?”
May reiterated London’s stance on the issue: “I am sure that it is a matter of concern not only to him but to a number of his constituents. We continue to take the view that the best resolution of this issue is for India and Pakistan themselves to come together and resolve the matter. That will be the way to resolve it that will actually ensure the sustainability of a resolution.”
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2018 11:28:15 IST