A US-based group called Sikhs for Justice is preparing for the event in Trafalgar Square, when a ‘London Declaration’ is supposed to be issued, calling for a ‘referendum’ on independence of Punjab.
“In the UK, people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law,” a United Kingdom government spokesperson told HT as opposition to the event grew within the Indian community.
“However, we will not tolerate any groups who spread hate or deliberately raise community fears and tensions by bringing disorder and violence to our towns and cities and the police have comprehensive powers to deal with such activities.”
The Indian high commission in London did not want to comment beyond acknowledging they had received a similar response.
People aware of the developments said a similar response had been sent to the Indian authorities in response to their ‘note verbales’. The external affairs ministry and the high commission had sent ‘note verbales’ requesting the British government to deny permission for the event. A note verbale is a formal, unsigned diplomatic note written in the third person.
The event has revived New Delhi’s long-standing demand that London clamps down on such elements. Indian high commissioner Y K Sinha also met British foreign office minister Mark Field over the issue.
Indian community members took to the social media to oppose the event as SFJ put up billboards and claimed support of some Kashmiri groups and sought to rally followers.
“On August 12, we will unveil the case for Sikhs’ right to self-determination as guaranteed in the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,’’ said SFJ’s legal advisor, attorney Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. “It is the principle of the right to self-determination and the common occupying power – India – that brings Sikh and Kashmiri people on a joint platform in their democratic quest for freedom of their homelands.”
There were indications of a counter-event to oppose the event.
Sikh Human Rights Group’s Jasdev Rai questioned the validity of a ‘referendum’. “This appears to be a sketch better suited to a Punjabi comic drama… A hocus-pocus referendum exercise is undermining the authority and status of Sri Akal Takht Sahib (the highest Sikh temporal seat).”
“It will be best for the organisers to rethink and sit with people, who have been part of the Sikh struggle since 1984 (anti-Sikh riots) and take advantage of the unconditional talks offered by the Narendra Modi government,” Rai, who has been in talks with New Delhi since Modi’s visit to London in November 2015, said.
Conservative Friends of India co-chair Rami Ranger said: “These handful of Sikhs are an embarrassment to Sikhs at large and also an impediment to progress in Punjab… Imagine, if people of Scotland make demand for a referendum for their independence in India.”
Jasbir Singh Parmar of the Bedfordshire Asian Business Association said a majority of the people in Punjab would not want a referendum.