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UK Govt Distances Itself from Sikh Separatist Rally in London: Report

Sikh separatist rally in London on Aug.12.

The United Kingdom government has distanced itself from the pro-Khalistan rally that was organized by a separatist Sikh organization in London on Aug.12. The issue had brought about a strain in diplomatic ties between the two countries, with India voicing its dissent over the event.

The UK government has said that merely giving a nod to a rally doesn’t mean that Britain supports or opposes the cause, PTI reported.

“Although we allowed the protest to take place, this should not be taken as expressing a view either in support or against. We are clear that this is a question for the people and government of India,”  the news agency quoted a source associated with the UK government as saying.

The comments came following reports regarding exchange of letters between the United States-based Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), which organized the London rally, and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) on the “campaign for Sikh self-determination,” the report added.

The prospect of a “short meeting” sought by SFJ with UK government representatives to raise the concerns of Sikhs was turned down by the FCO, which said that it “encouraged all involved parties to resolve any differences through dialogue.”

The United Kingdom is “rightly proud of the long-standing tradition in this country that people are free to gather together and demonstrate their views,” the report cited a letter dated Aug. 17 from an unnamed ‘Desk Officer for India’ at the FCO as stating.

“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 added.

Britain had allowed the “London Declaration on Referendum 2020” rally to take place at London’s Trafalgar Square, despite the Indian government’s request to ban the event. India had last month cited a plausible adverse impact on the bilateral relations between the two countries to lodge a protest against the rally.

The Indian government issued a demarche in July and said that it expects the UK government to disallow any such group to use its country, whose intention is to spread hate and which can affect bilateral ties, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said at the time, adding that India told Britain that the intention of the event was the same.

The UK government, however, gave its nod to the rally, saying that people in the country enjoy the right to express their views within the limits of law.

“In UK people have right to gather & demonstrate views within law. We won’t tolerate groups who spread hate or raise community fears by bringing disorder to towns and cities. Police have powers to deal with such activities,” the British High Commission had said on the issue, according to an earlier report by ANI.

The purpose of the separatist rally, attended by over 2,000 Sikhs, was to start a campaign for a non-binding referendum on the independence of Punjab. A pro-India rally was also held at Trafalgar Square on Aug. 12 to counter the march campaigning for a Khalistan referendum.