On Sunday, Pro-India and pro-Khalistan groups confronted each other in a noisy face-off during an event to call for a so-called “referendum” for the independence of Punjab at Trafalgar Square in London.
Over 2,500 pro-Khalistan supporters were present at the event to issue what the organiser, US-based Sikhs for Justice, called a “London declaration” to hold the “referendum” in 2020.
Some protesters also travelled from other parts of Europe and elsewhere the event while some participation was by UK-based groups.
It has been alleged that the event was support by Pakistani elements.
The gathering went ahead with significant police presence to keep away the pro-India and pro-Khalistan groups from any major conflict.
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 reflected in official statements: allowing it to go ahead amounted to “a separatist activity which impinged on India’s territorial integrity” and aims to propagate violence, hatred and secessionism.
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.
The support for Pro-Khalistan included women and children with placards against the Indian government. The speakers recalled Operation Bluestar and the anti-Sikh riots in the aftermath of Indira Gandhi’s assassination and also reminded of the lack of justice for the victims.