August 23, 2011 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
London (August 23, 2011): In September 2003 the Sikh Federation (UK), a non-governmental organisation that acts as a pressure group, but is often referred to as the first and only Sikh political party in the UK, was set up with a UK membership base and branches across the country.
The Federation was set up to be an independent organisation in the UK with a clear set of aims and objectives, including lobbying governments and exerting pressure through diplomatic channels for the establishment of an independent sovereign Sikh State, Khalistan.
The origins of the Federation can be directly traced back to the Indian army massacre of Sikhs at the Darbar Sahib Complex in June 1984 that laid the foundation stone for Khalistan and the legacy created by Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. From the outset the Federation has been and will continue to be linked to the Damdami Taksal, the oldest Sikh seminary established by Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
The Federation’s lobbying work has primarily been within the UK and encompassed a very wide range of issues that have been taken up with the UK Government and Parliamentarians. Lobbying the European Parliament, European Commission and United Nations has also been led by the Federation, but has been less effective with limited input from Sikhs in other countries.
In the last eight years the Sikh Federation has established itself as the leading political organisation with UK Parliamentarians and its wide-ranging role has been consistently acknowledged by coverage by the mainstream media. In this respect most independent commentators and activists in the Sikh community in the UK and abroad recognise and value the work and contribution of the Sikh Federation (UK).
The Federation produces and releases a highlights booklet in September each year that summarises some of the work carried out in the previous 12 months. The booklet is usually structured under three headings:
1) Building a stronger political voice in the UK and abroad
2) Defending and promoting the Sikh identity
3) Raising awareness and campaigning for human rights
For several years the Federation has been encouraging existing Sikh organisations in Canada and the US to follow a similar model of political lobbying, but with limited success given other demands and challenges on their time and resources.
Earlier this year following meetings between Sikhs from the UK, US and Canada the International Coalition for a Sikh Homeland was launched and an announcement made on 5 June 2011 at the Freedom Rally in Trafalgar Square in London on objectives to be achieved within 12 months.
The Sikh Federation (UK) has for some time been under pressure by those living in mainland Europe, Canada and the US to think about formally expanding the political lobbying model of the Federation across the globe. There has however to date been a reluctance to expand the membership base and branches beyond the UK due to various challenges presented in different countries, not least the need for a leadership that is widely respected by the local Sikh community, has loyalty to the core principles of the Federation and the need for competent sewadars who can engage with politicians at the national level.
In the last couple of years there has been an unprecedented level of publicity amongst Sikhs regarding the Federation’s work with coverage by several Sikh television channels and greater reporting in Sikh/Punjabi newspapers and through social networking. This has resulted in greater knowledge and interest in the UK, Europe and across the globe about the Panthic activities of the Federation. When you combine this with the launch of the International Coalition for a Sikh Homeland earlier this year and the slow progress in Canada and the US to undertake political lobbying on the same scale as the UK the leadership of the Federation has decided to embark on a 4-week consultation on whether and how it should expand its work across Europe and the globe.
At the international level the consultation is regarding the setting up of a 31-member International Supreme Council of the Sikh Federation with Sikh representation from around 20 countries. The international set up will co-ordinate the Federation’s political activities worldwide and lead engagement with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and lobbying at the United Nations in New York and Geneva. The existence of the Sikh Federation at an international level would be directly linked to the vision set by Shaheed Bhai Amrik Singh Ji. The International Supreme Council of the Sikh Federation would look to meet at least twice a year and hold an annual event linked to its work at the UN.
In Canada and the US the proposal is to have a set up similar to the UK with each country having at the national level a 15-member National Board of Directors supplemented with advisers and local branches with 5-member Local Boards of Directors in major cities with a large Sikh population. The National Board will take the lead in ensuring successful lobbying of their respective national governments and branches would engage with local politicians. Those on the National and Local Boards would also provide the main interface with the Sikh Sangat in Gurdwaras and the national Board would have overall responsibility to engage with the Sikh/Panjabi media.
Another radical proposal to attract a greater number of youngsters and professionals to the Federation’s leadership in the UK, Canada and US would be for the outwardly focused work of the Federation in each of these countries to be led by a 25-member National Management Team headed by five Managing Directors who would also sit of the National Board of Directors.
Each Managing Director will have specific responsibilities split along the following lines:
i) Implementation of Strategy, Policy and Administration
ii) Media, Communications, Marketing and Publicity
iii) Events and Campaigns
iv) External Relations and International Liaison
v) Resources, Succession Planning, Youth Engagement and Organisational Development
The aim is to have five teams of five, supplemented with advisers and other sewadars. Local branches will be urged to put forward names of volunteers that should include youngsters and women.
For mainland Europe the proposal is to have national branches in around a dozen countries led by an 11-member National Board of Directors and within each country there can also be local branches each with 5-member Local Boards of Directors. Each national branch would lobby their respective national governments and politicians with the support of local branches within the country.
Those in mainland Europe will join those from the UK to lobby the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the Council of Europe. National branches across Europe would look to meet at least twice a year and hold an annual event linked to European institutions. A protocol would be established for media engagement by branches in different European countries. Branches in mainland Europe will be encouraged to nominate 10 members with language skills to work with the 25-member National Management Team in the UK to co-ordinate all correspondence and organise relevant events.
Following a meeting of the national leadership of the Sikh Federation (UK) the 4-week consultation process was launched with a live television programme on the Sikh Channel on Saturday 20 August. Consultation meetings by region are planned for the East Midlands, West Midlands, North and South in the next two weeks.
Successful meetings were held in the East Midlands and West Midlands on Sunday 21 August with an excellent response to the propsals. The North meeting will take place in Leeds on Sunday 28 August and the South meeting will take place in Southall on Sunday 4 September.
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