The View from India | Indian diplomacy’s Khalistan problem

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Updated - March 28, 2023 10:59 am IST

Published - March 27, 2023 11:56 am IST

Protestors of the Khalistan movement demonstrate outside of the Indian High Commission in London.

Protestors of the Khalistan movement demonstrate outside of the Indian High Commission in London. | Photo Credit: AP

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The raids and arrests on a group suspected of extremist violence and Khalistani separatism in Punjab, and the hunt for its leader Amrit Pal Singh, saw repercussions last week for Indian diplomacy around the world from the U.K. and the U.S. to Canada.

Our coverage last week looked at how overseas Khalistani protests have played out, the security impact on India’s embassies and consulates, and how the Indian Government has responded.

In London last weekend, protesters shouted Khalistani slogans and attempted to enter the High Commission. There clearly wasn’t adequate security from the U.K., as indicated by the fact that one protester was able to climb up to the Indian High Commission balcony and bring down the Tricolour. India lodged a strong protest pointing to the “indifference” of the British government, and summoned the British Deputy High Commissioner Christina Scott to the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Members of the Indian diaspora in the U.K. then responded by gathering outside the High Commission for a demonstration of solidarity.

The U.K. government then belatedly beefed up security outside the High Commission, and at least a hundred police officers stood guard on both sides of the road and were on standby in the Aldwych neighbourhood, as The Hindu’s Sriram Lakshman reported from the scene.

Then on Tuesday, U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly sought to allay security concerns of the Indian High Commission and said the U.K. government was working with the Metropolitan Police and would “make the changes needed to ensure the safety of its staff as we did for today’s demonstration”.

The protests also spread to the U.S. India lodged a strong protest with the United States after acts of vandalism by pro-Khalistan elements targeting its consulate in San Francisco. The MEA summoned U.S. Charge d’Affaires Elizabeth Jones and reminded the U.S. of its “basic obligation” to protect India’s diplomatic missions on its territory. Besides the incidents in London and San Francisco, reports said that the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, Sanjay Kumar Verma, had to cancel an event after sword-wielding individuals gathered at a venue.

A group of Khalistan supporters also gathered in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington and many of their speakers tried to incite violence, but timely intervention by an alert U.S. Secret Service and local police prevented a repeat of the vandalism seen in London and San Francisco.

Barricades have been removed outside residence of British High Commissioner Alex Ellis at Rajaji Marg in New Delhi on March 22, 2023.

Barricades have been removed outside residence of British High Commissioner Alex Ellis at Rajaji Marg in New Delhi on March 22, 2023. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

India over the weekend also summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and asked the Justin Trudeau government to “arrest and prosecute” pro-Khalistan elements in Canada. And two days after the incident in London, law enforcement agencies in New Delhi removed the barricades around the British High Commission and the residence of U.K. High Commissioner Alex Ellis. India also reminded the U.K. and the U.S. that it does not want “assurances”, but expects “actions” by host countries to prevent attacks on its diplomatic missions.

In this week’s Worldview, Suhasini Haidar examined whether the Khalistan separatist problem is becoming a diplomatic challenge for India, as well as whether tit for tat measures from India are the right response.

The Top Five

What we are reading this week - the best of The Hindu’s Opinion and Analysis

1. Meera Srinivasan writes on the International Monetary Fund (IMF) clearing a $3 billion-Extended Fund Facility (EFF) for Sri Lanka, potentially unlocking more loans for the debt-ridden island nation. The Hindu, in an editorial, cautioned that the IMF decision is no magic pill and comes with a number of conditions, and India, China, Japan and the U.S. need to cooperate if Sri Lanka is indeed able to navigate a difficult economic path.

2. As China and Russia last week unveiled a broad long-term blueprint for their deepening relations following Xi Jinping’s Moscow visit, we looked at the takeaways for the region, from a joint pledge to work together to push back against the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy as well as criticism from both countries about attempts to “politicise” multilateral platforms, a stand that could impact this year’s G20 summit in India and prospects for a collective joint statement.

3. Suhasini Haidar on the cornered former Prime Minister Imran Khan and the latest political crisis unfolding in Pakistan.

4. Saptaparno Ghosh on Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok who was in the news last week as he testified before a hostile U.S. Congress, and how the social media giant is getting caught up in U.S.-China tensions.

5. Suhasini Haidar and Samridhi Tewari on how India’s moratorium on visas has torn Afghan families asunder, and among more than an estimated 60,000 Afghans who have requested visas for India, are a large number of those married to Indian nationals.

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