Opposition to Sunday's pro-Khalistan rally at London's Trafalgar Square has gained momentum with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and All-India Anti-Terrorist Front Chairman MS Bitta strongly criticising the rally.
While Singh downplayed the significance of carrying out such rallies, Bitta dismissed the chance of a Khalistan being carved out in India ever and blamed Pakistan's ISI behind the propaganda. Speaking to reporters Bitta said, "There was never a Khalistan nor will there ever be one. (Khalistan na kabhi bana tha, na banega, na banne denge.) We will never let that happen. The nation is one. Punjab was always a part of India and will continue to be. ISI is behind this, it has been exposed. People in India won't let them succeed."
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Naresh Gujral said, "Very miniscule Sikh population settled abroad is participating in this. No Sikh in India has sympathy for this as Sikhs are loyal Indians. They've made more sacrifices for India than any other community. It's an attempt by ISI to foment trouble in Punjab. It is financed by ISI. Pakistan and ISI have been trying hard for a long time to create problems in Punjab. They failed in Kashmir and want to move the stage to Punjab."
UK: People of Indian origin, living in the United Kingdom, protest against Referendum 2020 in London. pic.twitter.com/GQCfvhe2AD
— ANI (@ANI) August 12, 2018
Taking a strong jibe, former Chairman of Sardar Patel Memorial Society UK said, "We're living in this country and they are talking about free Khalistan in India. This has been organised in conjunction with, we believe, the help of ISI in Pakistan and Khalistanis in Canada."
Congress leader Ashwani Kumar said, "UK govt should find a way to stop such protests. We've already suffered enough at hands of those who are bent upon in breaking the unity of India. There can be no question of any referendum as far as Punjab is an integral part of India."
The event 'London Declaration for a Referendum 2020' is being organised by a United States-based Sikh separatist organisation -- Sikhs for Justice (SFJ)-- that would be issuing `London Declaration` for a referendum on the state of Punjab. SFJ said the rally is intended to raise awareness for a non-binding referendum in 2020, calling for the Sikh-majority state of Punjab to be granted independence. The SFJ calls itself an advocacy group.
Thousands are expected to descend upon the iconic Trafalgar Square after the UK said it would not ban any group protesting peacefully. A UK government spokesperson had said that "in the UK people have the right to gather together and to demonstrate their views, provided that they do so within the law".
Speaking on this issue, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday said that India had conveyed to the UK that the pro-Khalistan rally will be "separatists' activity" aimed at impinging on India's territorial integrity. The strong comments came days after the UK turned down India's request to not allow the rally to take place.
MEA Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India has drawn the UK's attention to the fact that the event is a "separatists' activity which impinges on India's territorial integrity". "We have said that it seeks to propagate violence, secessionism and hatred and we expect them to take into account the larger perspective of the relationship when they take a decision on such matters," Kumar said during a media briefing.
After receiving information about plans to hold similar events in certain other places in Europe and elsewhere, the MEA wrote to Indian missions in those countries to take up the issue with local governments. "We are aware that something similar is planned in some other locations as well. We have written to our mission to take it up with foreign offices of respective countries," said Kumar.
Chairman of the British Sikh Association Dr Rami Ranger dismissed the pro-Khalistan rally as a move by a "handful of un-elected and self-appointed Sikhs". "If they have any merit in their argument, then they should go to Punjab and fight the election on the agenda of Khalistan. There is no point embarrassing Sikhs at large along with their Gurus by behaving in an undemocratically manner in a foreign country with a demand of a referendum which is not binding on anyone," he said.
Britain's left-wing Green Party has already thrown its support behind the pro-Khalistan rally. However, besides the Green Party, no major British political party or leader has come forward to back the rally. Scotland Yard said it had not received any complaints regarding the event which will be allowed to go ahead without any restrictions.
Earlier backing this, Dal Khalsa, a Punjab-based radical political group, which has for years been advocating, supporting and campaigning for a separate homeland for the people of Punjab, has termed `Referendum 2020' merely an opinion poll being conducted amongst the Sikhs living abroad. "It is a survey or an opinion poll to see how many Sikhs or Punjabi diaspora are in favour of separate Sikh state or the sovereign state of Punjab so you cannot call it a real referendum," the group had said.