On March 19, people chanting Khalistan Zindabad and anti-India slogans stormed the Indian high commission in London. They took down the Tricolour and tried to replace it with the Khalistan flag. While this incident was condemnable and shocking, it was not surprising. The United Kingdom (UK) has been a safe haven for anti-India extremist forces for several decades. In 1984, Ravindra Mhatre, a 48-year-old Indian diplomat, was kidnapped and later killed by Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) militants in Birmingham. In the last few years, Indian and Hindu institutions have been under systematic attack. Here are some recent instances.
On March 9, 2019, members of the Indian diaspora, holding peaceful counter-protests against Khalistani elements near the Indian high commission building in London, were attacked. The police remained mute spectators. On August 15, 2019, while the Indian diaspora was celebrating Independence Day at the high commission, they were pelted with eggs, bottles, shoes and other objects. The embassy staff brought everyone inside the building, people were offered food and water, and rescued through the back door. Less than a month later, on September 3, 2019, the building was attacked after protests over the abrogation of Article 370. A 10,000-strong crowd marched in London and several window panes were smashed. On September 18, 2022, a Hindu temple was vandalised in Leicester, and a saffron flag was pulled down.
There are some striking similarities between these incidents and the response of the UK government, the Metropolitan Police of London, and police in Leicester. The attackers were clear in their intention of showing strength, intimidating members of the Indian diaspora, inflicting physical damage on the property of the Indian high commission, and insulting Hindu religious symbols and the Indian national flag.
But the response of the police force was pathetic. The first action of omission by the police was to allow the protesters to come so close to the high commission building, a property protected by the Vienna convention. After the incident of August 15, 2019, when I received several frantic messages from people stuck inside the building, an eyewitness said it took two-and-a-half hours for the Metropolitan Police to arrive. Just three weeks later, in spite of the earlier incident of vandalism, the police again allowed thousands of protesters to come close to the building.
The political reaction to such attacks is mixed. While many Members of Parliament and lords from both major parties denounced these incidents, others, such as home secretary Suella Braverman (who is responsible for the security of diplomatic missions), remained silent. Regrettably, even the statements of condemnation remain little more than lip service. British parliamentarians, who are eager to discuss every anti-India resolution threadbare, have hardly found time to discuss these attacks on the floor of parliament. The reason for this is not only the significant funding they receive from anti-India forces but also the political clout of these elements in their respective constituencies.
The role of the Metropolitan Police of London is most deplorable. The once-famed Scotland Yard — cast as a superhero by the British establishment and movies alike — is now characterised by a total lack of professionalism, efficiency and ability to respond quickly. After every attack, the political establishment and the Met Police promised that protesters would not be allowed in the vicinity of the building the next time, and yet lacked the courage to stop a similar strike.
The underlying problems with the Met Police are very serious to say the least. In 2021, a Met Police officer abducted his female colleague, raped and murdered her. A subsequent inquiry (the report was published earlier this week, according to British newspapers), said, “Metropolitan Police is broken and rotten, suffering collapsing public trust and guilty of institutional racism, misogyny and homophobia.” The same report said that 12% of women Met officers have been attacked or harassed by their colleagues and one-third experienced sexism.
In such a situation, it’s too much to expect from the Met Police that it will work to protect Indian government properties and Hindu places of worship in the UK. However, the British government needs to be reminded that such callous attitude of the establishment is likely to adversely affect friendly relations between the two countries. The current sentiments in India are seething with anger against these repeated attacks; the British government, therefore, should go beyond offering mere lip service after every attack and prove its sincerity by prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators of these crimes against India, in order to regain the confidence of Indians again.
Vijay Chauthaiwale is in-charge, foreign affairs department, Bharatiya Janata Party
The views expressed are personal