SOURCE: Hindustan Times
The UK government tendered an apology on Thursday after Indian authorities complained that the Indian flag in Parliament Square was pulled down, torn and stamped on by individuals protesting against India and the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Soon after the complaint to the Foreign Office and Scotland Yard, a replacement flag was put up. Some Indian journalists were assaulted and complained of intimidation during Wednesday’s protests.
The Foreign Office said in a statement: “While people have the right to hold peaceful protests, we are disappointed with the action taken by a small minority in Parliament Square and contacted High Commissioner Yashvardhan Kumar Sinha as soon as we were made aware.
“The visit to the UK by Prime Minister Modi has strengthened our relationship with India and we look forward to working even more closely together on a number of important areas.”
Pro-Khalistan protestors from the Sikh Federation UK and members of the so-called “Minorities Against Modi” group, led by Pakistani-origin peer Nazir Ahmed, were among nearly 500 protesters who gathered in Parliament Square.
While the protests were on in Parliament Square and Downing Street, Prime Minister Theresa May did not respond inside Parliament to a ruling party MP who asked her to condemn messages by anti-India groups against Modi on customised vans moving around central London.
Conservative Party MP Bob Blackman asked May: “Will my right hon. friend take the opportunity to condemn absolutely the mobile billboards that are going around London attacking our good friend Prime Minister Modi, and will she congratulate and thank the 1.7 million members of the Indian diaspora on their contribution to the work of this country?”
May did not mention the anti-Modi billboards, but said: “India is indeed a good friend of the UK, and the Indian diaspora here in the UK plays an enormous role and makes an enormous contribution to our society and our economy.”
She added, “When I spoke to Prime Minister Modi, we discussed how we can encourage and increase the links and development between our two countries.”
Wednesday saw a spate of pro- and anti-Modi demonstrations in central London as the prime minister held bilateral meetings and addressed the Indian diaspora in a special event. Inside Parliament, May was asked more questions on India.
Afzal Khan, Labour MP from Manchester, mentioned the protests and asked her: “This week, the UK becomes the chair of the Commonwealth. Many of us will have walked past demonstrations outside Parliament on the issue of Kashmir, and I understand that the prime minister will be presented with a petition.
“The stalemate in the bilateral talks between India and Pakistan has failed to deliver any solution to this major nuclear flashpoint. How will she use the UK’s new position to boldly pursue peace and human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir?”
May reiterated London’s stance on the issue: “I am sure that it is a matter of concern not only to him but to a number of his constituents. We continue to take the view that the best resolution of this issue is for India and Pakistan themselves to come together and resolve the matter. That will be the way to resolve it that will actually ensure the sustainability of a resolution.”
The Labour MP from Ealing Southall, Virendra Sharma, put it to May: “Following the commitment by Prime Minister Modi and finance minister Arun Jaitley to end tuberculosis in India by 2025, will the prime minister commit to encouraging other Commonwealth leaders at this week’s CHOGM to make similar commitments in advance of the UN high-level meeting on TB?”
May responded: “The hon. gentleman raises an important issue, and we are happy to ensure through various channels that we encourage others to follow the example that India has shown in relation to TB. At one stage, it was eradicated here in the UK but we need to ensure that action is taken in other countries around the world”.
Ashis Ray, president of the Indian Journalists Association (IJA) raised the issue of attacks on journalists with Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office and called on the police to book the assailants.
He said in a statement: “Reports of intimidation against and manhandling of a few of our members by political protesters in central London on April 18 have been brought to our notice. IJA’s constitution obliges the organisation to defend the right of our members to freely discharge their professional duties.
“Therefore, IJA strongly condemns the threats and violence faced by concerned members from anti-India demonstrators. We also call upon the British police to bring to book wrongdoers upon receiving any complaint on the matter from our members.”