Scepticism over future of Modi-Sikh talks in London

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, Hindustan Times, London
  • Updated: Mar 14, 2016 09:34 IST
Jasdev Singh Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Group and the lead interlocutor during the parleys. (HT Photo)

Leading figures who participated in Sikh-related talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in London in November last year have turned sceptical about his ability to deliver promises due to follow-up talks lacking clarity and political representation.

The London meeting with Modi was described as a “major breakthrough after 31 years of standoff” between overseas Sikhs and the Indian state. National security adviser Ajit Doval was asked at the talks to carry forward the dialogue.

Jasdev Singh Rai, the chief interlocutor in the London meeting, told Hindustan Times on Sunday that “the main organisations (supporting the talks) are still sceptical about Modi’s intentions”. He said further talks will depend on the promised release of political prisoners.

During a meeting in January, Rai was told by Doval that the process to release 42 political prisoners – including Davinderpal Singh Bhuller – had been initiated. Doval also suggested periodic meetings in Delhi with delegation of Sikhs from across the world.

Rai said: “The release of political prisoners will go some way to reduce that scepticism. The process of the talks is still with bureaucrats. There is no heavyweight politician involved on behalf of the Prime Minister.”

“Further, there is no clarity on what and who the government wishes to talk to. Is it with the Sikh community in general or with the worldwide Sikh political organisations who have been at the forefront of the tensions between India and Sikhs?”

Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Group, said if the ‘main organisations’ were not at the table, the talks may not achieve the desired outcome since the issues are “political rather than everyday NRI matters”.

“The statement by the Prime Minister in London referred to an entirely different context of worldwide Sikh dispute with India. That is why a political involvement may be beneficial”, Rai said.

He added: “I am convinced that the PM wishes to find a way forward and a solution to the 31-year long, arguably much longer, dispute that has affected relations between Sikhs and India. I hope the PM can muster the political support to deliver the results. But I am looking forward to talks when political prisoners are released.”

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