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India upset by Sikh activism in the UK and debate in the UK Parliament on abolition of death penalty

March 15, 2013 | By

Indian High Commission in London accused of trying to undermine democratic convention of MPs representing constituents

Sikh activism in United Kingdom worries India

London, UK (March 14, 2013): Reporting in the India media suggests India is increasingly concerned with growing Sikh political activism in the UK.

Two weeks ago on February 28, 2013 a two and a half hour debate was held in the UK Parliament on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in India.

On March 13, 2013 another debate on the British Sikh community was held in the Parliament of the UK, which shows the Sikh community is increasing its political activities and getting increasing recognition.

In a detailed write-up sent to the Sikh Siyasat News (SSN), the Sikh Federation UK has accused the Indian High Commission in London for trying to undermine democratic convention of MPs representing constituents.

The full text of the article reads as follows:

“The Sikh Federation (UK) has become aware through MPs that the Indian High Commission in London went to extreme lengths to pressure certain MPs to find excuses not to attend the debate on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in India. For this reason some MPs no doubt stayed away from the debate in the main Chamber of the House of Commons in the UK Parliament on Thursday 28 February 2013.

The debate was co-sponsored by John McDonnell MP (Hayes and Harlington) and Fabian Hamilton MP (Leeds North East). The two and a half hour debate started with an opening speech from John McDonnell and in total 22 MPs from four political parties spoke and a further 10 or so MPs attended for part of the debate, but did not speak. The number of MPs taking part in the debate was consistent with the numbers predicted by the Sikh Federation (UK) that has been involved in around half a dozen similar debates over the last decade.

Many who have watched on television have commented the main Chamber looked fairly empty. However, the only time many see the main chamber on television is when Prime Minister’s Questions is on or when there is some other major debate when the chamber is packed out. At many other times, especially for backbench business, very few MPs are in the main chamber of the House of Commons. However, numbers were lower due to Indian High Commission pressure; the Eastleigh by election on the same day and the debate being on a Thursday.

Virtually all MPs that spoke in the debate used it to pay tribute to the Sikh community and its senior leadership and at the same time criticise India for retaining the death penalty, a corrupt judicial system and other human rights abuses.

Signs of pressure from the Indian Government during the debate

There were signs of pressure from the Indian Government via the Indian High Commission. To counter the inevitable criticism from the Indian Government several MPs went out of their way to justify the debate, the importance of the constituent MP relationship and why they were personally taking part. It was hardly surprising that virtually all MPs emphasised they were friends of India and many mentioned India was the largest democracy in the world, although some used this to be all the more critical.

One of the things those observing proceedings at the House and at home were very surprised to witness was the Deputy Speaker allowed the Minister to ‘respond’ 39 minutes into the two and a half hour debate and not hear the views and proposals of all MPs before responding at the end of the debate. This appears to be very unusual and a departure from normal practice. For example, the Minister spoke at the end of the debate that immediately followed on the Kurdish Genocide 25 years ago. Many see this as a sign the Indian Government has managed to interfere with the proceedings in the UK Parliament, described during the debate as the mother of all Parliaments”.

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