Pro-India and pro-Khalistan groups were engaged in a noisy face-off during an event to call for a so-called “referendum” for the independence of Punjab at London’s Trafalgar Square on Sunday.
More than 2,500 pro-Khalistan supporters gathered to issue what the organiser, US-based Sikhs for Justice, called a “London declaration” to hold the “referendum” in 2020. Many travelled from other parts of Europe and elsewhere for the event, with some participation by UK-based groups.
The event was allegedly backed by elements in Pakistan.
There was considerable police presence to segregate the pro-India and pro-Khalistan groups. British authorities had earlier rejected India’s demand that permission be denied for the event on grounds of freedom of expression, leading to renewed strain in bilateral relations.
New Delhi’s ennui with London over the event was reflected in official statements: that allowing it to go ahead amounted to “a separatist activity which impinged on India’s territorial integrity” and seeks to propagate violence, secessionism and hatred.
The pro-India group held placards (including some with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi), sang patriotic songs and danced to the accompaniment of loud dhols, as the rival group tried to drown out the chorus with slogans in support of Khalistan and against the Indian government.
The pro-India group included members of the Overseas Friends of BJP, whose president Kuldeep Shekhawat claimed that allowing the event betrayed Britain’s “hidden agenda” to support Khalistan and Pakistan.
“Relations between India and Britain are strained at the moment. Giving permission for this event will not help. Britain is clearly encouraging separatist activity. We came here to give out the message that we stand for a united India,” Shekhawat said.
Speakers at the event included Pakistan-origin Nazir Ahmed, member of the House of Lords, who declared his support for Khalistan “for my Sikh brothers and sisters”, and announced a demonstration outside the Indian high commission on August 15.
Pro-Khalistan supporters included women and children carrying placards against the Indian government, as speakers recalled Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination, as well as the lack of justice for the victims.
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