New Delhi: In what could further exacerbate the uncomfortable equation between India and the United Kingdom over the issue of Jammu and Kashmir, another proposed anti-India protest is scheduled to take place in London on October 27, the day of Diwali.
Concerned about the safety and security of its High Commission staff in London and the anti-India sentiment being whipped up over the issue of Kashmir, India has issued a note verbale (or a diplomatic letter) to the UK. This has been done in London by the High Commission.
The immediate trigger for this diplomatic note has been the protests by pro-Pakistan groups over Kashmir outside the Indian High Commission on August 15 and then again on September 3. The one on India’s Independence Day was meant to disrupt celebrations in the High Commission. The matter was taken up at the highest level during a phone conversation on August 20 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his British counterpart Boris Johnson.
The information released from the Indian side said that Modi “referred to the violence and vandalism perpetrated by a large mob against the High Commission of India in London”. It also said that Johnson had expressed regret over the incident and assured that all necessary steps would be taken to ensure the safety and security of the High Commission and its personnel and visitors.
However, a subsequent protest in September had turned uglier. Not only did the protestors manage to reach very close to the High Commission premises, they also threw tomatoes and eggs and broke a window pane.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan condemned the attack when the Indian High Commission in the UK tweeted about it. However, questions were raised about why the police failed to restrain the protestors some distance away from the High Commission.
Meanwhile, the matter resonated in the UK Parliament as well on Wednesday with Conservative Party MP from Harrow East, Bob Blackman, questioning Johnson over the steps being taken by the government to prevent violent protests scheduled for Sunday.
"This is a police operational matter and the home secretary [Priti Patel] will be raising it with the police," Johnson responded. "We must all be clear in this House that violence and intimidation anywhere is wholly unacceptable in this country."
Blackman has been speaking out in India's favour since the decision to revoke Article 370 and withdraw the special status of Jammu and Kashmir found echoes among Britain's MPs. The north London MP, who is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Hindus, has accused the Opposition Labour party of interfering in an internal matter of India.
On Wednesday in Parliament, Blackman said, "In this House, we defend forever the right of peaceful protest. Yet on 15 August, pro-Pakistani organisations held violent protests outside the Indian High Commission. This Sunday, there is the threat of 10,000 people being brought to demonstrate outside the Indian High Commission on Diwali, the most holy day for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. What action is the government going to take to prevent violent protests this Sunday?"
Blackman has also written to Mayor Khan urging him to take steps to ensure the so-called "Free Kashmir" march on Sunday does not proceed.
"I am receiving vast amounts of correspondence from multiple diasporas highlighting concerns which stem from community safety perspectives plus the obviously confrontational date selected: the holy festival of Diwali," Blackman said in his letter.
Last week, Khan had issued a statement condemning the march and called on the groups to reconsider, while highlighting that the power to ban marches of this nature lies solely with the UK Home Secretary and not with the mayoral office.
"This march will only deepen divisions at a time when Londoners need to come together. That is why I am calling on those organising the march and all those considering taking part in it to think again and cancel their plans," he said, stressing his City Hall office would be working with Scotland Yard to ensure a "robust" policing plan was in place for such a march.
According to Metropolitan Police details on the permissions sought for the proposed march, an estimated 5,000-10,000 protesters plan to commence their march from Richmond Terrace near Downing Street and converge outside the Indian High Commission in London.
"This march finishes at the diplomatic mission — the very building which saw prolonged bouts of violence and thuggery in the summer — and sadly the building remains scarred from when windows were smashed, objects repeatedly thrown and other ugly scenes," noted Blackman in his letter to Khan in reference to the violent clashes on August 15.
"After the horrific scenes in August the Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist diasporas are worried that authorities in the United Kingdom are not doing enough to protect them," he added.
The "Free Kashmir" rally is being promoted across social media channels as an annual "Black Day" event to mark October 27, 1947, as the day when Indian troops allegedly entered the then princely kingdom of Kashmir. The "President" of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, Sardar Masood Khan, and PoK "Prime Minister" Raja Muhammad Farooq Haider Khan are expected to participate in the march on Sunday.
(With inputs from PTI)