The outrage is palpable on social media and in conversations. Once the citadel of law and order and decent behaviour, London is now seeing one incident after another, this time with the Khalistanis upfront.
On top of that, a day after India summoned a UK diplomat to protest against the vandalism, reports of another incident at the San Francisco consulate surfaced and made ripples.
It's not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last as London shelters every conman, cheat, and separatist of any cause. In recent months, the Khalistani activity has seen an unusual spike, and become increasingly violent with a strong disinformation campaign which is all pretty well-funded.
The Amritpal Singh fiasco is now public knowledge with the fugitive’s exciting escape almost part of a Bollywood saga. Also, consider that he is literally the ‘man from nowhere’, unknown even to Indians until he literally flew into a blaze of publicity, a once clean-shaven transporter from Dubai, now with a flowing beard, and self-styled heir to the toxic legacy of late actor-turned-activist Deep Sidhu.
His organisation, Waris Punjab De, took on its first acts of violence only in December last year. Notwithstanding the powerful Khalistani imagery and paraphernalia, his rise to fame, to reach across the globe, is stunning, to say the least.
It's also hugely unusual, even in this day of social media. Try getting a single tweet viral on your own. And in the UK — the Khalistanis make waves.
Long Term Khalistani Presence in the UK
Now consider the UK incident where a bunch of goons managed to get into the premises of the High Commission, a dangerous and completely unacceptable act, many notches above the usual protests.
Khalistani activity in the UK goes back to the 1960s when Jagjit Singh Chauhan, ‘President’ of Khalistan, was allowed into the country. By the 1980s, he was responsible for the most astonishing propaganda activities, including a ‘Khalistan’ passport and printed money, all on British soil, even as Punjab burned. That infuriated the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi so much that she wrote a harsh letter to her counterpart Margaret Thatcher. To no avail. Chauhan and his ilk continued their activities, undeterred.
In 2013, a murderous attack against Lt Gen Kuldip Singh Brar, all of 78, who had headed Operation Bluestar should have given London the wake-up call to deal effectively with the Khalistanis once and for all. Nothing much happened. However, the Khalistan banner remained at the quarter mast for a while but swelled again in the wake of the farmer's protests.
An online petition in the UK got more than 100,000 signatures leading to a Parliamentary debate that led to a statement supporting protests and media freedom while backing the government's right to enforce law and order. What they didn’t seem to have noticed was the large crowd who protested the farm laws outside the Indian High Commission in violation of COVID protocols and also carried Khalistani flags. They should have had a closer look at those thousands of signatures.
UK Agencies Warn of a Radicalisation Threat
Recently, a counter-terrorism review by the UK government admitted what many already knew. Its ‘Prevent’ Strategy observed not only radicalisation of UK Muslims on the issue of Kashmir and "potentially toxic” pro-Khalistan extremism as escalating concerns for the country, but also that of a 'false narrative’ being disseminated by a small number of pro-Khalistan groups, that the government was colluding with its counterpart in India to persecute Sikhs.
That impression of ‘collusion’ was probably due to a BBC report that British intelligence agencies had assisted Indian intelligence in the arrest of Khalistani Jaggi Johal accused in several murder cases. While the review also noted that rhetoric from Pakistan was "inflaming anti-India sentiment", particularly around the subject of Kashmir, it failed to make the connection between the two. That was to be left to careful social media forensics later.
The use of the K-word has been seen before, most recently during the Asia Cup, when the incident of the dropped catch by Indian cricketer Arshdeep Singh was used by Pakistani handles to drum up the Khalistan issue. Fact-checkers noted that tweets in the first three hours after the incident saw key influencers in Pakistan and then the US.
Unfortunately, this also included hate tweets against the highly regarded cricketer, but the main multiplying factor came from Pakistan. Along with a wave of disinformation on the farmers' protests were videos by a Pakistani ‘think tank’ – Pakistani Strategic Forum – which alleged that Sikhs were being marginalised in the Indian Army.
Fake News Galore, Farmers' Agitation & Amritpal Support Groups
At present, a barrage of fake news has spread across the net, with some from the UK alleging the desecration of gurdwaras, posts from Canada alleging the torching of gurdwaras, and organisations soliciting support for Amritpal on Instagram.
The usual suspects like Pieter Friedrich active in berating the government, and other organisations like Poetic Justice Foundation – involved with the ‘toolkit’ for the farmers' agitation, and Sikhs for Justice at the forefront. Another trend noticed is the attempt to club Khalistan with the Palestine issue with the UK-based National Sikh Youth Federation declaring support for "liberation struggles" from colonial occupation and dispossession. A UK MP has also declared support as has Khalsa Aid.
None of this would elicit much alarm, except that there is already an ongoing movement to club Kashmir and Israel together by such anti-India organisations like Stand with Kashmir. That is a trend that needs to be watched.
At present, the social media is also rife with posts reprising violence against Hindus by Khalistanis in the 80s and a slow but sure rise in fomenting hatred. This is the most dangerous of all and needs to be rebutted with a strong information war.
Apart from an information deluge within the country on the huge role of the Sikhs in Indian history, in this instance, both countries also need to cooperate strongly. In the UK, the unhappiness of Sikhs was apparent when many refused to write "Indian" in the 2021 census forms, with various Sikh organisations then advising them to tickbox ‘other’.
Any disciplinary action sought by India needs to not just insist rightly on bringing perpetrators to justice, but also take into account the generational discomfort among Sikhs in the UK. A diplomatic push to honour and glorify Sikhs as an integral part of India would be useful, particularly with a strong recognition of their contribution not just in the fight for freedom, but in the years since when they sacrificed their lives in the battle against Pakistan, terrorism, or China.
To end this Khalistani issue once and for all, not just in the UK but also in Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, it's time to show sincere gratitude to a group that has fought for this country. Nothing less will do. And yes, go looking for those behind this outbreak of violence. Don’t wait for the Brits. They’re not always that energetic. Once that was tied to British fairness of the British justice system.
(Dr Tara Kartha is a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS). She tweets @kartha_tara. This is an opinion article and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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