OPED By Vaishali Basu Sharma
In a significant move to bolster India-UK cooperation, Britain’s Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, announced new funding of £95,000 to tackle UK-based Khalistan extremism.
Tugendhat was in India on a three-day visit to attend the G20 anti-corruption ministerial meeting. In his meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S Jaishankar, in New Delhi on August 10, Minister Tugendhat announced the new funding to enhance the UK’s capability to tackle Pro-Khalistan Extremism.
Making the announcement, Tugendhat said that a “deeper partnership between our two nations means we can more effectively tackle the security threats we both face. I’m committed to working together to enhance our understanding of and capabilities against extremism – whatever form it takes.”
India and UK already have in place Joint-Extremism Task Force, which focuses on enhancing UK-India cooperation in tackling extremism, ensuring that all possible actions are taken against groups and individuals seeking to incite violent extremism or who are involved in the financing of it.
But the £95,000 investment will greatly enhance the British government’s ability to identify and disrupt extremist narratives and activity.
“The £95,000 ($120,700) investment will enhance the government’s understanding of the threat posed by Pro-Khalistan Extremism, complementing the joint work already underway between the UK and India through the Joint-Extremism Task Force,” the statement said.
On March 19, protesters with ‘Khalistan’ banners staged a demonstration at the High Commission in London. They took down an Indian flag from the building’s first-floor balcony to denounce recent police action in Punjab against a Sikh separatist leader.
The “breach of security” incident, which involved the “complete absence of British security,” raised tensions between the two countries. India has since been asking Britain for increased monitoring of UK-based supporters of a Sikh separatist movement.
British foreign minister James Cleverly assured India that the UK would review security at the Indian High Commission in London following “unacceptable acts of violence” towards the mission’s staff.
Prime Minister Modi’s government has pointed out the soft attitude of the British system, including intelligence toward anti-India Khalistan separatists.
The Indian government had alerted British intelligence, including MI-5, regarding a planned Sikh extremist attack on Indian Mission. There was speculation that the attack on the Indian High Commission in London would affect ongoing trade talks between India and UK.
The Bloom Review
In April, an independent review commissioned by British authorities recommended that the UK government should investigate extremist activity within the country’s Sikh community against the backdrop of pro-Khalistan elements inciting violence and intimidation.
The recommendation comes from a report by Colin Bloom, an independent faith engagement advisor, commissioned by former prime minister Boris Johnson in 2019.
The report’s evaluation is quite alarming as it states that a “small, extremely vocal and aggressive minority of British Sikhs who can be described as pro-Khalistan extremists” is promoting an “ethno-nationalist agenda.”
Some extremists are “known to support and incite violence and intimidation in their ambition to establish an independent state called Khalistan.”
The report, however, reassures that the “subversive, sectarian and discriminatory activities” of the “extremist fringe ideology within the pro-Khalistan movement” does not reflect the true nature of the majority of British Sikhs and has led to a division within British Sikh communities.
The Bloom Report noted that members of the British Sikh community have warned the UK government that not distinguishing extremist agendas of subversion from mainstream Sikh communities would result in the UK turning a “blind eye towards religious extremism.”
One interesting aspect pointed out by the Bloom Review is that the Sikh extremists form a tiny minority, attract disproportionate amounts of attention and stoke divisive sentiments by artificially inflating their influence and by using the ‘Sikh’ label to legitimize dubious positions or tactics to lobby political bodies.
Indian Concerns About Sikh Radicalism
Recent years have seen concerns raised in the media and by Indian policymakers about rising levels of ‘Sikh extremism’ and ‘Sikh radicalization’ among the Sikh diaspora in the UK. Sikh radicals in the UK actively use social media and networking websites to spread the message of Khalistan radicalism.
In a setback to the extremist Sikh proponents, Avtar Singh Khanda, a leading exponent of Khalistan who lately led the attempt to revive secessionism and was the mastermind of the March vandalization of the Indian High Commission in London, died in a hospital in Birmingham in June.
Khanda is believed to have groomed the young radical Sikh preacher Amritpal Singh to look and act like Khalistani icon Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to capture the imagination of radical Sikhs and ensured the group ‘Waaris Punjab De’s’ meteoric rise by using the power of social media.
The radical diaspora in other countries has also been trying to stir up trouble. In July, a mob of Khalistani supporters attacked an Indian student in Sydney while he was on his way to work.
The Indian consulate building in San Francisco was set on fire by Khalistan supporters. In Brampton in, Canada, a tableau ‘celebrating’ the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards was part of the parade.
There are indications that the Pakistani intelligence agency ISI has been instigating overseas Khalistan supporters to organize protests and demonstrations. Amidst India’s security concerns, creating the £95,000 fund to tackle Khalistan extremism is a positive step.
- Vaishali Basu Sharma is an analyst of strategic and economic affairs. She has worked as a consultant with India’s National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) for nearly a decade. She is presently associated with the New Delhi-based think tank Policy Perspectives Foundation.
- The author can be reached at postvaishali (at) gmail (dot) com.