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Will There Be Political Fallout in Britain?
The Roundtable Open Forum # 114

JASVIR SINGH

 

 

 

Rarely does the release of government documents under the 30-year rule cause any community in the UK to question its own identity and result in front-page headlines internationally.

But the revelations of two letters dated February 1984 from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, one of which refers to an SAS officer travelling to India and drawing “a plan to remove Sikh extremists from the Golden Temple in Amritsar”, the holiest shrine of the Sikh faith, has done precisely that.

In June 1984, the Golden Temple complex was stormed by the Indian Army as part of Operation Blue Star to flush out a group of armed Sikh resistance fighters who had fortified the shrine, and the entire State of Punjab was isolated from the rest of India for a period of time under a complete media blackout and curfew. The Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was subsequently assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards on 31 October 1984, and the days immediately following her death saw the killings of thousands of innocent Sikhs around India by mobs in the worst communal violence since Indian independence almost 40 years earlier.

The involvement of the British government in Operation Blue Star has shocked many Sikh-Britons.

Several Sikh organisations have spoken of the sense of betrayal that they have felt, especially in light of this year’s one hundredth anniversary of the start of the first world war when tens of thousands of Sikh troops loyally fought and died for king and empire. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have seen Sikh-Britons venting their shock and resentment towards the British government for what is being described by one leading Sikh organisation as “British collusion with Indian authorities in the Golden Temple genocide 1984”.

Given the depth of the emotions of many Sikh-Britons related to these revelations, the impact upon the Sikh-British identity could be far reaching. According to the British Sikh Report 2013 published last June, 95 per cent of Sikhs in the UK were proud to some extent to be British.

Dr Jasjit Singh of Leeds University has commented upon this, saying: “It will be interesting to monitor if this feeling of Britishness has been affected in any way by these revelations – certainly the conversations taking place in the immediate aftermath of the disclosure of these letters highlighted feelings of betrayal, that the British government of the time could knowingly be a part of an operation which they were fully aware would hurt the sentiments of Sikh-Britons.”

Sikh-Britons have noted that the decision was made by Margaret Thatcher’s Government, with images of Thatcher and Gandhi together being circulated on social media with several comments about the two comparable to the emotive comments made by some sections of British society following Thatcher’s death last year. The impact upon the relationship between the Conservative Party and the Sikh-British electorate cannot be underestimated, with Will Heaven from The Telegraph questioning “Will British Sikhs ever vote Tory again?”

It has also been noted that Tom Watson MP and Pat McFadden MP, both Labour politicians with significant Sikh populations within their constituencies, have raised questions at PMQs last week regarding these revelations. Tom Watson has also been credited with raising the profile of the revelations to a national and international level.

The investigation into this matter goes far beyond party politics and it would be morally reprehensible for any political party to make mileage of this, but there will inevitably be political, as well as social, repercussions.  

Will Sikhs be far less likely to vote for the Conservatives in 2015 in light of events of 30 years ago?

Will there be an effect on how integrated Sikhs feel in British society?

Will the inquiry by the cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood be enough to assuage the concerns of Sikhs in the UK and elsewhere?

It is still far to early to tell, but we should have some sort of idea once the findings of the inquiry have been made public in the next few months.

THE ROUNDTABLE OPEN FORUM # 114

We invite our readers to share with us their comments and responses to this article by posting the same hereunder.

 

Jasvir Singh is chair of the City Sikhs Network in the United Kingdom.

 

[Courtesy: Fabian Society. Edited for sikhchic.com]

January 21, 2014

 

Conversation about this article

1: R Singh (Canada), January 21, 2014, 1:58 PM.

Sikhs have contributed as citizens to these countries, and have no need to sit on the sidelines ever. Thatcher was a right wing loonie and the likes of her come and go. There are many who opposed her then and oppose such policies now. We need to get our voices heard.

2: H. Kaur (Canada), January 21, 2014, 6:14 PM.

When Margaret Thatcher died, there were Anglo-Saxons protesting at her funeral, calling her scum, etc. Interestingly, she spoke out against Sikhs being glad at the death of her sister Indira and then her people made a spectacle at her funeral. I don't blame them for being angry at her even beyond death. She made a whole generation quite poor apparently with her policies. Here is a clip of some protesters: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/margaret-thatcher/10000235/Margaret-Thatchers-funeral-protesters-turn-their-backs-on-coffin.html

3: H. Kaur (Canada), January 21, 2014, 6:26 PM.

Me again. Here is a good article on how all sorts of people, including the British, and many other nations celebrated Margaret Thatcher's death. It was unique apparently for a western PM. Anyway, I don't think Sikhs are so dumb they are suddenly going to leave Britain in droves or start hating it for good even if some young people might be angry for a little while. It will merely highlight India as a global Sikh-hater, is what is more probable. Sikhs don't give up easily on a place and India really did a lot to spawn an independence movement among Sikhs. At the end of the day, Britain is a much, much better place than India.

4: Hardev Singh (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), January 22, 2014, 1:59 AM.

The researchers who unearthed the damaging and damning correspondence between the two like minded autocratic prime ministers deserve credit. It is also gratifying to see savvy, politically mature Sikh-Britons giving a measured, thoughtful response to what is undoubtedly an explosive and deeply unsettling revelation, bordering almost on betrayal of their faith in the best of British tradition; and for their loyalty and giving life and blood in their hour of need, a treacherous act, if proven. Sikh-Britons will have to judge by the standards free democracies proclaim, as to their doings and deeds and what actually transpired, by nothing less than an honest, transparent, full disclosure. Not much can be expected out of India. It is difficult to restrain one's aversion to the degradation fallen on a great land. Indira Gandhi, with no shame or honour, went to the colonial masters just as Nehru used to seek Mountbatten when confronting a problem. The current crop of politicians do not want to 'unearth a corpse' and want the memory of 1984 obliterated from their consciousness. Not so with the Sikhs, who still remember the excesses of Zakariya Khan, twice daily in their prayers. The ghosts of 1984 will haunt for a long time.

5: Harmander Singh (London, United Kingdom), March 06, 2014, 4:01 PM.

I just want to share a bizarre recollection from about 10 months ago. It was approx 10:00 pm on Tuesday, 23 April 2013, and I was at Westminster station returning from an event held in the House of Commons by The Friends of Baha'is, I remember this because I had already accepted the invite to it before the one for a Vaisakhi event held on the same evening at the same venue had arrived. I felt I wanted to go to this particular event instead of the Vaisakhi one anyway because it is important to be friends with everyone and not just with people of your own faith. As I was about to go through the barriers I noticed two young men wearing turbans just behind me who I recognised and they had recognised me. One of them called out to me and said, 'Harmander Singh, we did not see you at the event in Parliament with Fauja Singh.' 'I was at another one down the corridor,' I said, 'it was with the Baha'is.' The same young man said, 'Oh, OK!' and then continued: 'Will you be coming to our event when we launch our report?' he asked. I stopped walking and said, 'No, I feel I cannot because of the date you have chosen to launch it'. The young man asked, 'Are you busy that day then?' 'No,' I said, 'it is just a little insensitive or thoughtless of you to have chosen that particular day' I said. 'Why, what is so wrong with that day'? the other young man said. I said, 'On the 4th of June in 1984, Operation Bluestar happened, when the Darbar Sahib -- what I am named after -- was attacked'. Both men looked genuinely surprised and, as if twins, said: 'Oh, we did not know that,' and we went our separate ways. The reason why I started this missive by saying it was 'bizarre' is because earlier this week, the same two gentlemen were among the Sikhs who met with the Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where one seemed to have got his time and place totally wrong when he burst out with a gratuitously grovelling appeasement to the Minister saying how grateful Sikhs are to the British Government to be allowed to ride motorcycles without a crash helmet - and this in the presence of some distinguished Sikhs who were at the forefront of the fight to win the said right and the young man may at best be in his nappies at the time. What I found more galling was to then see on the BBC, the other young man (of the 23 April 2013 encounter) speaking as if he actually knew what he was talking about what happened on 4 June 1984 - the underlying theme of his responses was extremely disappointing for he vastly underplayed the true feelings of Sikhs as a collective. Simply doing a bit of background reading and then as if an opportunist, jumping on the bandwagon for personal gratification does little to impress anyone in the long run The BBC and other mainstream media really ought to do their background research better before inviting people just because they propel themselves into the limelight. Point of my message above is that one of the two gentlemen I mention is the author of the Roundtable Open Forum # 114 article and the other was his constant companion. The Sikh Report mentioned was based on less than a thousand responses from a Sikh population of over 420,000.

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 114"









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