When Kashmiris who had strayed could be given amnesty, why exclude the Sikhs who had sought foreign asylum after escaping the riots of 1984, the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC) has asked the Indian government.
The DSGMC is on a mission to the United Kingdom (UK), to first address the problems of the Sikh community abroad and then bring the hardliners back into the national mainstream. Its president, Manjit Singh GK (54), who will lead a 10-member delegation to destinations including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland in a week, has said that “if the hardliners have remained aloof and isolated for many years, the Indian government is responsible largely”.
“It continues to paint the Sikhs who had taken asylum in various European and North American countries after the riots in Delhi in 1984 as terrorists, so they have no option but to support the separatist agenda,” said GK, who with his delegation arrived in Britain on September 17 and ever since is visiting gurdwaras and Sikh organisations such as Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurudwara in Southall and Gravesend to convey that Sikhs have been the biggest nationalists and their contribution to India’s struggle to freedom has been immense.
“It is because of the wrong policies of the Indian government they are being seen as anti-national,” he said, adding: “These people came here only to save their lives and earn livelihood. They have committed no crime on the Indian soil, yet the Indian government denies them visas to visit their land of birth. Even their next generations are being denied.”
“When the people of Jammu and Kashmir who had strayed could be given amnesty, why the Indian government is not applying the same yardstick to Sikhs,” said GK. Now the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Punjab’s ruling party led by Sukhbir Singh Badal, has dethroned the Paramjit Singh Sarna as DSGMC president after almost 12 years (Sarna has since moved on to a top post with the Congress support) but all these years, its leaders could never engage in a dialogoue with the Sikhs living abroad, especially the hardliners in the UK. Still, the SAD wants to send a message to the Indian Sikh diaspora that it is sympathetic to their cause of returning to India.
During live interaction with the audience on The Sikh Channel in Birmingham, GK and his team faced a volley questions on why the Badals or anyone from their family had stayed away from reaching the Indian Diaspora here. Gurnam Singh, professor in a local university, asked GK if he was a Khalistani or an Indian, to which the latter replied that he was very much an Indian and there was no support for the Khalistan movement in India at all.
The programme, scheduled for an hour originally, went on for two hours and 10 minutes. GK even went on say that he wouldn’t mind shedding his blood to ensure that Sikhs were dubbed terrorists no longer, in India or abroad.
The delegation also met Wolverhampton MP Paul Uppal to seek his help in securing the UK government's support to the cause. “The issue is being taken up with the UK government but it has to be addressed by the Indian government as well,” said Uppal.
Security for GK
Considering the DSGMC’s tough stand against the radicals, the Westbrowich police have provided Maniit Singh GK with security.
Gajan Singh, managing director of Raaj FM radio said the channel had to request for security to GK, since he has been taking on the radicals in the UK, where some fringe elements could assault or harm him. The DSGMC says it has not asked for security but the authorities probably assessed it was required.
Counsel general approached
The delegation also met Indian counsel general VS Ramalingam to inform him how the Indian mission in the UK was denying visa to some Sikhs who sought asylum in Britain after 1984. Ramalingam told the delegation the counsel had no idea how many of them were in the UK. “We only deny visa to those on the black list, and they are of all nationalities,” said Ramalingam, adding: “It is very difficult to assess how many of them would be Sikhs from the UK. In the last one year, we have issued nearly 95,000 visas and only 1,000 emergency certificates.”
The DSGMC president told Ramalingam that it showed that the Indian government had, so far, made no efforts to even know the figure, leave alone taking up cases for clearance.
Separatist feelings not easy to address
Manmohan Singh, founder member of the Dal Khalsa in the UK, is not impressed with Manjit Singh GK’s leading a delegation of the DSGMC to Britain to get the hardliners to give up the cause of a separate state.
Manmohan Singh came to the UK on February 12, 1984, and took asylum there to save his life. “I have all the respect for GK, who is a Sikh, and for his father, jathedar Santokh Singh for his contribution to the community. But by no means we will give up our demand for a separate homeland for Sikhs,” he said.
“The Indian government blacklisted me for committing no crime on its land, and now a delegation comes to pervail upon us to be part of the mainstream,” said Manmohan Singh, adding: “I am not at all happy with it.”
Organistations such as Dal Khalsa would continue to strive for separate Sikh homeland, he said. DSGMC president Manjit Singh GK said the reaction was expected, as no one from India had ever reached out to them all these years. “There was a huge disconnect, and the vested interests took advantage of it,” he said.
“Agencies, including the Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), would always try to fan these feelings to keep its own pot boiling. I agree that no one from the Punjab government also reached out to them (Sikhs living aborad) all these years to understand their sentiments,” added GK.
Badal expected in UK
In November or December, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal is expected to visit the UK. The DSGMC shared this information with the Indian counsel general in Birmingham. Badal’s Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has sent the DSGMC team in advance to pave way for the tour.