Upset over London continuing to allow anti-India protests and lack of action against those involved in recent violence, India has taken up the issue of another Kashmir protest planned on Sunday, with pressure mounting on home secretary Priti Patel to ban it.
A ‘note verbale’ (diplomatic note) has been sent to the Foreign Office on the issue, raising the level of concern so far expressed strongly by large sections of the Indian community and British MPs with voters of Indian origin in their constituencies.
There is fury in Indian quarters here that concerns raised by the community and New Delhi over such anti-Indian activities are treated as “routine”, with little official action to stop them and bring those responsible for recent violence to justice. Britain’s official approach to the Sunday protest is seen as a ‘test case’.
The issue figured in the House of Commons on Wednesday, when Conservative MP Bob Blackman recalled the violence outside India House of August 15 and September 3, and asked Prime Minister Boris Johnson what action is being taken to prevent violence on Sunday.
The day-long protest march is scheduled to begin from Downing Street and conclude outside the India House. Anticipating nearly 10,000 people, Scotland Yard has a ‘robust’ policing plan in place. Free coaches have reportedly been organised to ferry people to London on the day.
Blackman asked Johnson: “In this House, we defend forever the right to peaceful protest, yet on 15 August, and just three weeks ago, 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 will the Government take to prevent violent protests this Sunday”.
Johnson responded: “I join my hon. Friend, who speaks strongly and well for his constituency, in deploring demonstrations that end up being intimidating in any way”.
“He will understand that this is a police operational matter, but I have just been speaking to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and she will be raising it with the police. We must all be clear in this House that violence and intimidation anywhere in this country are wholly unacceptable”.
Blackman also wrote to London mayor Sadiq Khan to do everything he can to ensure that the protest does not proceed, and added that “Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist diasporas are worried that authorities in the UK are not doing enough to protest them”.
An FCO spokesperson said: “We respect the right to peaceful protest within the law but strongly condemn any damage caused to diplomatic missions. The safety and security of diplomatic missions in the UK, and their staff, is of utmost concern. We have been and remain in close contact with the Indian High Commission in London to emphasise this.”
Khan last week condemned the protest plan and called on the organisers to cancel it. Khan and his Labour party have been at the receiving end of ennui from large sections of the Indian community over the violence as well as for adopting an emergency resolution on Kashmir at the party’s annual conference that was rejected by New Delhi as ‘unfounded’.
Insisting that as the mayor he has no power to ban such protests, Khan wrote to Navin Shah, member of the London Assembly, who raised concerns: “This march will only deepen divisions at a time when Londoners need to come together…I understand why many British Indians are so deeply concerned. Many have felt deeply threatened and worried since the previous protests”.
“As mayor, I will continue to do all I can to extend the hand of friendship to Londoners of Indian origin – who continue to make such an incredible contribution to our city. I want to ensure they always feel respected, valued and made to feel safe in London, and that London remains a welcoming place to people from India and around the world”, he added.
The mayor’s office, Khan said, is working with the police to prevent a repeat of the violence witnessed during previous protests outside India House. Scotland Yard, he added, is also working closely with the Indian high commission on this issue.