Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Khalistan protests | What are India’s options?

Khalistan protests | What are India’s options?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss if the Khalistan separatist problem is becoming a diplomatic challenge for India and is tit for tat the best way to manage the security threat from protests at Indian missions

March 24, 2023 10:34 pm | Updated March 25, 2023 02:03 pm IST

The raids and arrests on a group suspected of extremist violence and Khalistani separatism in Punjab- Waaris Punjab De, and the hunt for its leader Amrit Pal Singh this week, saw repercussions for Indian diplomacy around the world. 

Here’s how these protests have played out and how the Government and the Ministry of External Affairs in particular has dealt with them

United Kingdom

In London- protestors shouted slogans, accosted Indian diplomats, and even pulled down the tricolour from the High Commission balcony on Sunday. According to the government, the British Metropolitan police were called but arrived too late to stop them. 

-There was another protest on Wednesday, but by then, a considerably large contingent of police was there to stop them. These videos are taken by The Hindu’s Sriram Lakshman and his reports are on our website

- The Ministry of External Affairs summoned Britain’s top diplomat in town- Deputy High Commissioner Christina Scott, and expressed its anger over what it called UK’s “unacceptable indifference” to the situation 

- In what appeared to be a tit-for-tat retaliatory move, the government removed security barricades from outside the High Commission and HC Alex Ellis’s residence 

United States 

- In San Francisco protesters broke open the makeshift security barriers raised by the city police and installed two Khalistani flags inside the Consulate premises. 

 - MEA summoned the Charge D’affaires Elizabeth Jones, conveyed a strong protest to her

 - However, no security measures were downgraded as in the UK case. In 2013, the government had removed security barriers around the US embassy in protest against the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in the US 


Since January at least 4 Temples in Australia have been vandalised- with pro khalistani, anti-India and anti PM Modi graffiti

Last week, the honorary Indian consulate in Brisbane had to close after protestors surrounded its entrance and raised a Khalistan flag there

PM Modi himself raised the issue, very unusual and rare for any PM to take up with his counterpart publicly, given that the Temple communities in question are mostly Australian citizens.

“It is a matter of regret that attacks on temples have been regularly reported in Australia over the past few weeks. It is natural that such news worries the people in India, and disturbs our minds. I have shared these feelings and concerns of ours with Prime Minister Albanese. And he has assured me that the safety of the Indian community is a special priority for him, ” PM Narendra Modi said

 I spoke to Australian High Commissioner Barry O Farrell about the incidents- and while he said Australia condemns the vandalism, eventually there are few options other than painting over the slogans to deal with the graffiti.


- Indian Consul was not able to attend an event in British Columbia after protests against the raids in Punjab, and lack of adequate security at the event 

 - There have been a number of cases of pro-Khalistani graffiti on temples in various parts of Canada- most recently in Mississauga

- The Indian consulate in Toronto condemned the vandalism in a statement

- Earlier, India had reacted to what it saw as the Canadian government’s lack of action in a number of such cases, including PM Trudeau’s criticism of the way Indian protestors against the farm laws were treated- EAM S. Jaishankar skipped a virtual meeting with the Canadian FM, and all high-level contacts were cancelled for several months. 

 While these issues- including support to separatist groups are the key reason for much of the tensions between India and Pakistan- US, UK, Canada, Australia are countries India has good ties with- and countries where India’s diaspora population – and particularly that of Overseas Indians- who are not Indian citizens is high.

 What are the government’s biggest worries? 

- Larger attack on Indian mission- there is a history to this- mostly threats from Khalistani and Kashmir groups

  1973, 3 gunmen entered the Indian High Commission and opened fire

 1984 protests overran the roads outside, but were contained by police 

 1985 Indian diplomat kidnapped and killed 

 2019 Protests against CAA at Indian HC 2020 Farm law protests at HC, and UK parliament debate, envoy summoned 

- Domestic politics spillover abroad- CAA Farm Laws etc 

- Embolden groups radicalising abroad 

- Terror acts- Kanishka IC 182 bombing 300 died 

- Strain bilateral ties- with UK US Canada Australia, etc. In the case of Saudi Arabia and Iran- they snapped ties after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was overrun by protests in 2016, and have only just restored ties during a meeting mediated by Beijing.

What are India’s options on diplomatic violations? 

1. Increase diplomatic methods- more demarches, visa restrictions, downgrading missions 

 2. Increase security by posting more Indian guards- Afghanistan for eg 

 3. Step up political pressure- EAM, PM Tit for Tat- encouraging protests outside the UK, US Missions, reducing security and barricades 

4. Snap Ties (KSA v Iran) 

5. India has also raised the Vienna convention for diplomats in its protest to the UK and US; 

 This is a UN treaty adopted by all member countries- Convention on Diplomatic Relations done in Vienna in April 1961 that mandates codes of behaviour

- Article 22 says the Premises are inviolable, and the Receiving or host state is “under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

There is no question that the security of a high commission or embassy is the obligatory duty of the host country, and the UK must explain thoroughly why it is unable to protect the Indian High Commission despite repeated requests for more security. However, the government must reconsider conflating issues where the security of Indian missions and diplomats are at risk, with cases of graffiti and vandalism at Temples or other centres for the diaspora community, a majority of whom are not actually Indian citizens. Eventually, politicising the diaspora can cut both ways, and Indian diplomacy must be focussed on protecting Indian interests.


1. The Sikh Diaspora: Search for Statehood (Global Diasporas Series) by Darshan Singh Tatla 

2. Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob 

3. Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project by Terry Milewski

4. Go! Go! Go!: The SAS. The Iranian Embassy Siege. The True Story by Rusty Firmin and Will Pearson 

5. Diplomatic Bag: An Anthology of Diplomatic Incidents and Anecdotes from the Renaissance to the Gulf War by John Ure 

6. Walking With Lions: Tales From A Diplomatic Past by K. Natwar Singh 

7. History Shock: When History Collides with Foreign Relations by John Dickson 

8. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary- essays published by Springer Publications 2018. 

QOTW: Question On WorldView this week:

Could you please do a quick review of India’s current defense exports and why we need to focus on indigenous exports? 

According to the latest report by Swedish Think Tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which you mentioned, India was the world’s largest arms importer for the five-year period between 2018-22 even though its arms imports dropped by 11% between 2013–17 and 2018–22. Russia was the largest supplier of arms to India in both 2013–17 and 2018–22, but its share of total Indian arms imports fell from 64% to 45% - and given the Ukraine war, that is likely to reduce further. India was the biggest arms export market to Russia, France, and Israel – clearly, a market that should be tapped more by domestic manufacturing, especially in a world more polarised. 

Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac

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