India reduces security outside UK high commission in New Delhi

Amrit Dhillon

New Delhi has reduced security outside the British high commission and the high commissioner’s residence in the Indian capital, removing the usual yellow metal barriers that provide an extra layer of protection.

Political analysts say it is retaliation for the UK police failing to stop a violent protest by Sikhs outside the Indian mission in London on Sunday when they vandalised the premises and pulled down the Indian flag.

“I do believe it is retaliation because the Narendra Modi government believes in muscular diplomacy,” said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr, a columnist for the Tribune newspaper in India.

The protesters were venting their anger over a hunt in India for a self-styled Sikh preacher, Amritpal Singh Sandhu. Punjab police have been scouring the state since Saturday for Sandhu, who advocates a separate Sikh state.

New Delhi felt the police in London had been remiss in allowing the Sikh protesters to get so close to the Indian high commission in Aldwych. The protest has continued this week but police have kept it across the road from the Indian mission.

On Wednesday, Indian staff inside the London mission taunted the protesters outside by unfurling a giant Indian flag that was larger than the one the protesters had pulled down.

India’s ministry of external affairs summoned the British deputy high commissioner on Sunday to explain the lack of security. “India finds unacceptable the indifference of the UK government to the security of Indian diplomatic premises and personnel in the UK,” the ministry said in a statement.

The British high commission said it did not comment on matters of security.

Sikh protesters in London oppose the crackdown in Punjab on Sandhu. The police want to arrest him on charges of abduction, inciting violence and disturbing social harmony.

They launched a search for him on Saturday but he remains on the run. Though Sandhu has been sighted on CCTV cameras on several occasions in different vehicles and in disguise, he remains elusive.

The swift retaliation over security comes soon after the Modi government hit back at the UK over a BBC documentary critical of his role during 2002 violence against Muslims in Gujarat.

After the documentary was broadcast last month, tax officials raided the BBC’s office in New Delhi looking for evidence of financial wrongdoing.

Arati Jerath, a regular political commentator on the NDTV news channel, said Modi was playing to the gallery because his supporters love it when he “flexes his muscles” at foreign powers, particularly western countries.

“With the UK, there’s an extra dimension, an anticolonial hypernationalism that tends to play out. One of his strongest pitches to his followers is that he has made India a country to reckon with,” said Jerath.

Other commentators are waiting to see whether India also reduces security at the US embassy in New Delhi. Sikhs in San Francisco held a similar protest outside the Indian consulate on Sunday when they broke through barricades and smashed windows.

(Source: The Guardian)