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Punjab

Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 1:11 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:11 AM (IST)

Consider banning Sikh Federation, India tells UK

Ashis Ray

London, January 13

India appears to have asked the British authorities to consider taking action against the anti-India, pro-Khalistan Sikh Federation UK, including proscribing the organisation. Effectively evolved from the International Sikh Youth Federation, the federation had last week announced a ban on officials of the Indian High Commission entering gurdwaras, which Indian diplomats promptly defied.

The request for undertaking steps to contain the federation was – according to a first-hand account – made during a meeting between the Indian Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and his British counterparts on Thursday. It was further pointed out to the UK that gurdwaras are trusts and fall under the ambit of the Charity Commission in the UK.

Britain is said to have assured Rijiju that they were keeping the federation “under check”, but pleaded they had to follow a system to proscribe it. It, though, agreed there was a “need for more cooperation” between the two countries. To proscribe an outfit under the UK’s Terrorism Act 2000, the British Secretary of State for Home Affairs can at his or her discretion take into account, among other factors, “the need to support other members of the international community in the global fight against terrorism”. In other words, arguably, hostility towards India cannot be ignored by Britain.    

Rijiju signed a memorandum of understanding with Britain under “Co-operation and the Exchange of Information for the Purposes of Combating International Criminality and Tackling Serious Organised Crime”. Clause 1.1 says: “The aim of this Memorandum of Understanding is to establish a framework for the participants (meaning the two countries) to pursue options for strengthening cooperation and exchanging information in the areas of combating international criminality and tackling serious organised crime.”

The British Foreign Office is concerned the federation’s activities could jeopardise the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which Indian PM Narendra Modi is slated to attend, and bilateral talks on the same visit in April. This was indicated in confidence by a British diplomat directly engaged with the upcoming events. In the uncertain post-Brexit scenario, Britain is trying to entice India to play a leading role in creating a preferential trading and investment arrangement within the Commonwealth, with a secretariat headquartered in India.

The immediate trigger for the federation’s diktat is assessed to be the detention and questioning in Punjab of UK-based Jagtar Singh Johal, suspected of being involved in killings in the state. 

It is obvious the federation’s writ doesn’t run beyond gurdwaras, who are either afraid of or aligned to it. So as not to fall foul of the law and perhaps also conscious of its limitations, it cleverly worded its edict, saying high commission officials are barred from indulging in “political activity” at the temples. In the past year, the Indian Mission’s outreach to the Sikh community has dwindled the ranks of Sikh militants. The federation was proscribed by the British Government between 2001 and 2016. 

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