The Sikh Council UK seems to be trying to stir suspicions against India. Were they to succeed, it would be profoundly damaging in all sorts of ways.
N early two weeks after the India-Canada row erupted, the story is transmuting, and in strange and dangerous ways.
On Friday, September 22, the Sikh Council UK, which calls itself “the largest representative platform for Sikh Gurdwaras and Organisations” sent out a press release. It described what it called its “urgent safety concerns and initiatives” for the entities it represents. The release darkly said that “reports have surfaced of individuals allegedly associated with the government of India making unwarranted approaches to members of our community residing in the United Kingdom.”
Particularly significant were the steps the Sikh Council said it was taking about its concerns and the extraordinary chain of events that followed. The Council said it had appealed “for guidance” to the UK’s Neighbourhood Watch network. Soon after, the national Watch sent out a weekend appeal to an estimated 90,000 coordinators of neighbourhood groups up and down the country. The national Watch asked everyone to support the Sikh community and to “actively report suspicious behaviour to the police.”
It is hard to overstate how damaging this sequence is. The Neighbourhood Watch is a national organisation that describes itself as the largest voluntary crime prevention movement in England and Wales. It has millions of members and they are, for the most part, ordinary British people in cities, towns and villages. Like most people around the world, these people’s view of international affairs is formed by the media as well as their own experiences. Their local neighbourhood watch group often enshrines the most engaged and community-minded British people in any area. If they start to see the Indian state as a thuggish organisation, it would be a low moment for India’s traditional image as a land of peace and spiritual goodness.
With its appeal to the national Neighbourhood Watch network, it could be argued that the Sikh Council UK has taken its sense of grievance into the heart of communities that know little about the issue of Sikh separatism or politics on the Indian subcontinent. The Council appears to be using a variant of a tried and true strategy to advance its goals: rather than focussing only on its own diasporic community of faith, it is seeking the wider moral backing of new compatriots.
It comes after days of acrimony between India and Canada. The row started with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accusing the Indian government of murdering a Canadian national on Canadian soil. India denied any hand in the untimely death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist or someone who advocated for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland to be carved out of India.
But Mr Trudeau’s public allegation made him Public Enemy Number One among Indians in India and elsewhere. His country too, inoffensive though it has long sought to be, has been in the firing line from New Delhi. In India, there continues to be enormous outrage at “Canada’s hospitality”, which some contemptuously categorise as foolishly undiscriminating towards everyone, from “Khalistanis to Ukrainian Nazis”.
The Sikh Council UK’s efforts seem to be aimed at stirring suspicions against India. If they succeed, it would be profoundly damaging not just for India but in all sorts of ways.