India summons UK diplomat after violent protest at High Commission building in London
India has summoned a senior British diplomat in Delhi to protest scenes of violence and vandalism at the Indian High Commission in London.
Apparent supporters of the Khalistan movement – a Sikh secessionist movement that calls for a separate homeland for the religious community to be carved out of India – protested outside the Indian High Commission building in Aldwych, Westminster on Sunday.
Social media videos showed protesters taking down the Indian tricolour after climbing the first-floor balcony of the building and raising yellow “Khalistan” banners.
Two security guards were injured and a number of windows at the High Commission were broken during the protest, the Metropolitan Police said after its officers were called to the scene at around 1.50pm.
Police said a man was arrested on suspicion of violent disorder and an investigation has been launched into the incident.
The protests were against a recent massive crackdown by India’s police on the Khalistan movement’s members in the northern state of Punjab, a state with a large population of Sikhs and which has had a long, contentious history with the secessionist movement.
India’s foreign ministry denounced the UK government in a sharp rebuke against the “complete absence of British security” around the High Commission and has demanded an explanation.
“The senior-most UK diplomat in New Delhi was summoned late evening today to convey India’s strong protest at the actions taken by separatist and extremist elements against the Indian High Commission in London earlier in the day,” the statement said.
“India finds unacceptable the indifference of the UK government to the security of Indian diplomatic premises and personnel in the UK.”
Supporters of #Khalistan & Waris Punjab De' chief #AmritpalSingh pull down the indian flag at the indian high commission #London. Internet services have been suspended in Indian Punjab for the last 3 days,entire Indian state machinery is conducting raids to arrest Amrit Pal Singh pic.twitter.com/CMBkY7vfwc
— Ghulam Abbas Shah (@ghulamabbasshah) March 20, 2023
British deputy high commissioner Christina Scott was reportedly summoned by the Indian foreign minister as Alex Ellis, the high commissioner, was not in Delhi at the time.
“She was reminded in this regard of the basic obligations of the UK government under the Vienna Convention,” a statement by the Indian foreign ministry added without mentioning the name of the diplomat.
It said it expected the UK government to take immediate steps to identify, arrest and prosecute each one of those involved in the incident and put in place stringent measures to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
In a tweet, Mr Ellis criticised the violent protest in London. “I condemn the disgraceful acts today against the people and premises of the HCI-London - totally unacceptable,” he said.
The decades-old Khalistan movement is outlawed in India and considered a national security threat. Supporters of the movement in the UK, the US, Canada and Australia, however, have continued to raise demands for a sovereign state known as Khalistan.
The incident occured after the Punjab police’s “mega crackdown” to arrest Amritpal Singh, a self-styled preacher and leader of a radical organisation “Waris Punjab De”, or Heirs of Punjab.
Mr Singh’s separatist rhetoric had largely gone unchallenged until members of the group clashed with police last month.
He has now become a popular figure within the separatist movement and is known among his followers for his distinctive dress sense, styled after Indian militant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who led a major separatist movement in India in the 1980s before he was killed by the Indian army.
Mr Singh gained notoriety in February after hundreds of his supporters stormed a police station and clashed with police with swords to free one of his jailed supporters.
An unprecedented public police chase to arrest Mr Singh entered the third day on Monday and saw authorities impose a ban on internet services in Punjab, a move which police said was necessary “to stop the spread of misinformation and rumours on social media”.
The ban was extended until at least noon on Tuesday as Punjab police continued an operation to chase the 30-year-old fugitive who drove through central Punjab with a cavalcade of supporters.
Kuldeep Singh Chahal, a police commissioner in Jalandhar city, said Mr Singh was chased by police for about 20-25km before he managed to escape.
His vehicle crashed into 5-6 motorbike riders, with some of them suspected to have been involved with him in a bid to divert police from the chase, another official said.
In a video live-streamed on Facebook by Mr Singh’s aides, scenes purportedly filmed inside his car showed the him speeding through dirt roads and along wheat fields in the agricultural state as they were chased by police.
Punjab’s police have so far arrested 78 of Mr Singh’s supporters during the weekend, including his uncle Harjit Singh and his driver.
The incident came days after Indian prime minister Narendra Modiraised the issue of “unfortunate” attacks on Hindu temples by members of a Khalistani group in Australia at a joint address with visiting Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese.
“It’s a matter of regret that for the last few weeks we have been getting regular news of attacks against temples,” Mr Modi had said.
“It is only natural that this kind of news is very worrying and distressing for everyone in India.”