In last week’s column, I mentioned towards the end, how deplorable it was that neo-Khalistanis are seemingly enjoying a free run in Western countries. Misusing the freedoms guaranteed in Western democracies such as Canada, United Kingdom, United States and, more recently, Australia, Khalistani hooligans have not only attacked Indian missions and consulates, but roughed members of the Indian community who opposed them. Complaints have poured in about Sikhs also being targets of neo-Khalistani hate speech and threats.
Often brandishing deadly weapons, including swords and sticks, armed mobs have been roaming the streets of Western democracies, waving yellow flags of the so-called Khalistan. Given that there are sizeable Sikh voters in some of these countries, the local authorities and politicians have been hesitant to condemn such acts of vandalism and wreckage.
Obviously, Western countries need to take stricter action, rather than looking the other way, when laws are broken, other citizens threatened, property damaged, or Indian missions attacked.
Recrudescence of neo-Khalistani extremism
It is not as if this recrudescence of neo-Khalistani extremism is sudden. It has been brewing under the surface for several years, with local authorities often ignoring the violence, intimidation, threats, and attacks carried out by such groups under the guise of a nationalist cause.
A telling example of such tactics was the attack on one of the most respected Sikh Canadian leaders, Ujjal Dev Dosanjh, some years back. Dosanjh attained political distinction by becoming the 33rd premier of British Columbia in 2000. He then served Labour Member of Parliament and as national Minister of Health for two years out of his seven-year term, from 2004-2011.
Few remember that during the heyday of the Khalistani agitation in 1985, Dosanjh suffered a murderous attack with an iron bar by an extremist. His head was battered and required 80 stitches. He also suffered a broken hand. As if that was not enough, an incendiary Molotov cocktail was left on his desk. Dosanjh, however, has consistently opposed Khalistani extremism, even if was politically expedient to support it, at least tacitly.
In 2017, however, Ontario, on the other side of Canada, carried a motion to label the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as a “genocide.” The riots were not only unfortunate, but utterly condemnable. However, to call them a “genocide” would be an incorrect use of the word. Pogrom would be a more accurate and possibly as severe an indictment.
The Indian government as well as its High Commission in Canada seemed to be caught on the wrong foot, taken utterly by surprise, it would seem in retrospect. Only 34 MPs voted in favour out of the total strength of 107, with five opposing the motion. The Khalistan-supporters took advantage of the 66 absent members.
Unambiguous diplomatic pushback
Six years later, the Indian government has not been as passive or unprepared. The diplomatic pushback has been consistent and unambiguous. When neo-Khalistanis attacked the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, the US Secret Service prevented any untoward incidents by acting swiftly.
An Indian journalist working for the Press Trust of India (PIT) was, however, beaten up. When a car rally by Khalistanis reached Times Square in New York on Sunday, March 26, again a large posse of New York Police Department (NYPD) personnel ensured that the peace was not disturbed.
This follows the Indian External Affairs Ministry’s urging Western governments to crack down on law-breaking extremists instead of merely offering assurances of action.
After the Indian High Commission was attacked by neo-Khalistanis throwing water bottles and smoke flares, culminating in the bringing down of the Indian flag, UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, condemned the violence calling it “unacceptable.” India hit back by downgrading of the security outside the United Kingdom High Commission and the High Commissioner, Alex Ellis’ residence.
Police removed barricades and even permitted a public porta-toilet to be set up on the pavement outside the latter’s home. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Rajya Sabha (Upper House) MP, Mahesh Jethmalani, said, “GOI’s response to the tricolour desecration in London by downgrading security at the UK High Commission here reflects the outrage of all Indians.” But the number of security personnel deployed for the protection of the UK mission and its members was not reduced.
The MEA on Saturday also summed the Canadian High Commissioner, Cameron Mackay, asking for an explanation as to why the security of India’s missions and consulates was permitted to be breached.
The UK deputy head of mission had already been summoned a week prior after the Indian flag had been pulled down by a Khalistani supporter, who had climbed up to the window of the High Commission in front of the cameras. The US Charge d’Affaires had also been similarly summoned after damage to the San Francisco consulate.
In addition to this diplomatic counter-offensive, it is also absolutely essential to expose the perpetrators, backers, and financiers of such anti-India extremism. Their global networks must come under international anti-terrorism monitoring agencies.
Concerted efforts to combat terrorism
If our world is to be safer for ordinary, law-abiding citizens, governments across the globe need to act in a concerted and cooperative manner to combat terrorism, no matter what its masks or guises may be.
In the end, it is public opinion that must be rallied against extremism in free societies so that elected lawmakers and representatives also feel obliged to act against it.
The “paradox of tolerance” is, after all, not all that new. Way back in 1945, in The Open Society and Its Enemies, Karl Popper famously said, “Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.”
Lest our very freedoms are abused or exploited to overthrow or undermine freedoms anywhere in the world, we must not hesitate to act against those who do not respect freedom or the rule of law in the first place.