The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has strongly expressed its concerns to its foreign counterparts regarding the emergence of pro-Khalistan group posters that incite violence against senior Indian diplomats. These posters have been found in various countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK. The MEA stated that space should not be given to those advocating violence or legitimising terrorism in the name of freedom of expression.
These developments have taken place ahead of a “rally” being organised by pro-Khalistan groups in these countries. The poster of ‘Khalistan Freedom Rally’ in Canada, titled “Kill India”, has also sparked widespread outrage.
How did it all begin and what has been happening? BOOM explains
What prompted the pro-Khalistan protests?
The murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar on the evening of June 18 in the Vancouver city of Surrey, Canada, triggered the protests. Nijjar was shot by two masked assailants while leaving the temple, Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, where he served as the president. Nijjar was the chief of the separatist organisation Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF).
Khalistan is the proposed name of the region Sikh state separatist groups want to create in Punjab, which spans both India and Pakistan. The Khalistani Movement supports this idea of a separate Sikh homeland.
According to the Indian government, the KTF’s leader Nijjar was actively involved in the organisation’s operations and networking, as well as the training and financing of its members, The Indian Express reported. He was also a wanted terrorist in India.
The protesters have meanwhile alleged the Indian government’s involvement in Nijjar’s assassination. Released by organisers of the pro-Khalistan movement, the protest flyers labels Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma and Consul General of India in Toronto Apoorva Srivastava as assassins of the Khalistani leader. On July 2, pro-Khalistan activists also attempted to burn down the Indian consulate in San Francisco.
The ‘Khalistan Freedom Rally’ is scheduled for July 8. According to the poster being circulated, the rally will start from Great Punjab Business Centre Malton and culminate at the Indian Embassy in Toronto, Canada.
How has the world reacted?
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that his country has always taken “serious action” against terrorism and will continue to do so, adding that it is “wrong” to suggest that his government is soft on Khalistan supporters in the country.
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly has also condemned the poster. “Canada takes its obligations under the Vienna Conventions regarding the safety of diplomats very seriously. Canada remains in close contact with Indian officials in light of some of the promotional material circulating online regarding a protest planned for July 8th, which are unacceptable,” she wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
This comes after the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar urged Canada not to give space to Khalistan supporters. He said, “We have already requested our partner countries like Canada, the US, the UK and Australia where sometimes Khalistani activities happen, not to give space to Khalistanis. Because their (Khalistanis) radical, extremist thinking is neither good for us nor for them nor our relations.”
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Thursday that any direct attacks on the Indian High Commission in London are completely unacceptable. He stated that the UK government has informed both the Indian High Commissioner in the UK and the Government of India that the safety of the High Commission workers is of the utmost importance.
The US also condemned the vandalism and attempted arson of the Indian Consulate in San Francisco by pro-Khalistani activists on July 2. US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller tweeted“Vandalism or violence against diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats in the U.S. is a criminal offense.”
The Australian government has also assured the safety and security of Indian diplomats in the country. “The Australian Government takes seriously its obligations under the Vienna Convention to ensure the security of foreign missions and their staff in Australia,” said the spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as quoted by The Australia Today.
What are the recent developments?
Amidst the ongoing diplomatic talks and upcoming rally, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has become a talking point. Many were speculating that the founder of the separatist Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) has been killed in a road accident in the United States.
Set up in 2007, SFJ claims to be “an international advocacy and human rights group”. In 2019, the Indian government banned SFJ for its separatist activities. Despite its long history, the SFJ’s most recent secessionist campaign was ‘Referendum 2020,’ which intended to “liberate Punjab from Indian occupation”.
The speculation of Pannun’s death comes days after three Khalistani seperatist leaders–Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Paramjit Singh Panjwar and Avtar Singh Khanda–were killed in a span of 45 days in a foreign land. Avtar Singh Khanda was a prominent pro-Khalistani activist who died in Birmingham, UK, last month, while Khalistani leader Paramjit Singh Panjwar was killed by unidentified gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan in May.
However, these speculations were busted when a video of Pannun surfaced on Friday, in which he declared that we was alive and well, while also confirming that he was behind the “kill posters” aimed at Indian diplomats serving in Canada, US and UK.
In the video, the SFJ leader also said that he would avenge the killing of his close aide Nijjar. “Hardeep Nijjar was my younger brother and we had an association of more than 20 years. We will avenge his death,” Pannun told Times of India.