September 13, 2019 | By Gurjeet Singh (Sikh Federation UK)
by Gurjeet Singh*
The International Sikh Convention organised by the Sikh Federation (UK) will commence tomorrow at Guru Nanak Gurdwara, Smethwick in the West Midlands and is expected to attract over 15,000 Sikhs over the three-day event.
Refreshed Sikh Manifesto to be showcased on Saturday evening at the Convention
The Convention this year is taking place at a time when there is unprecedented political upheaval in the UK. With a General Election potentially around the corner a refreshed Sikh Manifesto highlighting some of the notable achievements, new challenges and opportunities will be showcased on Saturday evening live on TV from the Convention.
The 10-point Sikh Manifesto (2015-2020) was published by the Sikh Network in January 2015 before the May elections and was described at that time as a “gamechanger”. This was a masterstroke in providing a resource to be used by Gurdwaras, Sikh organisations and individuals to take up issues with those hoping to be elected as MPs.
The Sikh Manifesto initiated greater engagement around issues and demonstrated how it could be used as a tool to create influence with individual politicians, political parties and government. The refreshed Sikh Manifesto to be published once the General Election is declared will be a resource to empower Sikh institutions and the wider community.
In the 2017 snap election the Labour Party in an unprecedented move adopted one of the ten points relating to the judge-led independent public inquiry into UK involvement in the 1984 Sikh Genocide in its main manifesto.
The Labour Party is expected to produce its own mini Sikh manifesto for the next General Election that will adopt several items in the refreshed Sikh Manifesto to be published by the Sikh Network. The new leadership of the Sikh Federation (UK) and Sikh Network is already in the process of meeting the Labour leadership along with the two Labour Sikh MPs.
Politicians closely watching what emerges from the Convention on Sunday
The main event with speeches from politicians and Sikh representatives from across the globe will take place on Sunday. John Spellar the local MP for Warley and former Minister will speak towards the start of the Convention at around 11am. Preet Kaur Gill MP, the first Sikh woman MP and Shadow International Development Minister will speak around 1pm.
There have been some notable successes in the last 12 months relating to the Sikh identity with the protections afforded to Sikhs in the Offensive Weapons Bill, monuments like the “Lions of the Great War” unveiled in Smethwick and one planned for central London depicting two Sikh soldiers from each of the World Wars near Trafalgar Square.
The Sikh community has also shown remarkable unity with unparalleled support from Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations for the campaign to secure the option of a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021 that has reached a critical point from a legal and political viewpoint.
The need for a Sikh ethnic tick box in the Census 2021 is likely to be a significant point of discussion at the Convention given news this week of the High Court agreeing to a judicial review hearing in early November.
It is understood Cabinet Office Minsters are considering the full implications if the legal challenge by the Sikh Federation (UK) is successful with the possibility it could delay the £1bn Census 2021 and how the issue could be play out for the Conservatives in any General Election.
Politicians of all political parties will be watching closely what emerges from the Convention as tactical voting is expected to play a much greater role in the next General Election and the Sikh vote will matter more than ever.
The Sikh Federation (UK) has identified 135 constituencies that have 1,000 or more Sikh constituents where local Sikhs will be encouraged to ensure the MPs elected from these areas do much more on Sikh issues, including supporting the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for British Sikhs.
A balanced scorecard approach is being developed that will be used to assess the performance on Sikh issues of each of the 135 MPs after they are elected. Some of these MPs will be Ministers, Shadow Ministers or backbenchers and will be able to use their positions in different ways to assist the Sikh community.
The Convention will also hear from the brother of Jagtar Singh Johal who is fast approaching two years in prison in India with no sign of his release or even a fair trial. Earlier this year when Jagtar’s wife met the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt we can now reveal he categorically told her and Jagtar’s MP stood no chance of a fair trial in India.
The Convention will also be used to push the UK Sikh Survey 2019 recently launched by the Sikh Network as it seeks views to support some of the issues in the refreshed Sikh Manifesto.
Last year the Sikh Federation (UK) promoted several younger Sikhs to key leadership positions. The next stage of the process of transformation and transitioning the leadership will be announced on Sunday. The structural changes to be announced will result in 60% of the leadership of the Sikh Federation (UK) being Sikhs born in the UK, including a team of five Sikh women.
Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “The Sikh Federation (UK) with the support of Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations is leading on political engagement and campaigning for the Sikh community. With a gradual transition to new leadership we are well placed to deliver historic and tangible victories for the Sikh community in the next 5 years.”
“Some of the opportunities that will be highlighted at the Convention relate to international support and action on the 1984 Sikh Genocide and progress on the Sikhs’ right to self-determination.”
“The current actions of the extreme right-wing Indian government in targeting minorities, including the people of Kashmir and Assam are a major threat to peace and stability in the region.”
“Our interactions with the international community, including several key governments and some of the radical solutions we have offered have been well received and we are confident our proposals will bear fruit.”