When UK under Thatcher saw ‘risk of severe damage’ to India ties

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Jul 21, 2016 18:54 IST
A 1969 photo showing former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. (AP File Photo)

A pro-Khalistan leader based in Britain “predicted” the death of former prime minister Indira Gandhi four months before she was gunned down by her bodyguards and also spoke of targeting her son Rajiv Gandhi, classified British documents released on Thursday showed.

India repeatedly complained in 1984 to the Margaret Thatcher government about the presence in Britain of Jagjit Singh Chauhan, the self-styled “president” of Khalistan, and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Hashim Qureshi , according to the documents.

Qureshi was accused of involvement in the murder of Birmingham-based Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in 1984. 

According to a 48-page note titled “Foreign political activists in the United Kingdom: Immigration control”, officials of the Foreign Office and Home department set out several aspects of policy and practice in dealing with such individuals.

The note said: “The Indian authorities have repeatedly complained about statements made in the UK by a Sikh, Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan, self-styled ‘President’ of the Sikh ‘Republic of Khalistan’. In June this year he ‘predicted the death of Mrs Gandhi; he has subsequently spoken of Rajiv Gandhi being a ‘target’.”

Gandhi was assassinated by two Sikh bodyguards at her official residence in New Delhi on October 31, 1984.

The note added, “His remarks have drawn a sharp response from the Indian government and there is a risk of severe damage to our bilateral relations. Other Sikh extremists in the UK, some of whom have sought asylum, constitute a further threat to bilateral relations.”

On Qureshi, the note said: “Mrs Gandhi complained personally to Lady Young about Hashim Qureshi, a Kashmiri extremist leader known to have been involved in terrorist and hijacking offences, who visited the UK in early 1984.”

It further said, “There are grounds for believing that he was involved in the murder of the Indian Assistant Commissioner in Birmingham, Mr Ravindr Mhatre. There is, however, no substantive evidence...He subsequently left the UK.”

Chauhan migrated to Britain in 1979 and formed the Khalistan National Council. He returned to India in 2001 and died in Punjab six years later.

The note was the outcome of directives by Thatcher’s ministers to “consider the need for further action” on foreign political activists, and listed India among four countries whose citizens were involved in “incidents during 1984” (Operation Bluestar was among the incidents of the year).

The note’s annexure mentioned several countries with whom Britain’s relations could be affected due to the presence of some of their controversial citizens on British soil. These included leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party such as Benazir Bhutto.

The cache of documents released include deliberations in the Thatcher government on preventing Pakistani and Bangladeshi men bringing second wives to Britain, and the possible entry into Britain of UK passport holders (of Indian origin) who were expelled from East Africa in the 1970s but had moved to India.

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