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Pressure Mounts For Independent Public Inquiry Into Role Of Thatcher Govt In Mid-1980S With Respect To British Sikhs

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Following the latest disclosures and information withheld

London - 1 January 2015

The latest disclosure of Cabinet papers from 1985 and information being deliberately withheld is giving new momentum to the British Sikh community in calling for an independent public inquiry into the role of the Thatcher Government in the mid-1980s.

The Sikh Federation (UK), the Sikhs own political party in this country, has been leading calls for an independent public inquiry since the shocking revelation that 30 years ago the Thatcher-led British government provided military assistance in planning the June 1984 massacre of thousands of innocent Sikh pilgrims at the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, Sri Harmandir Sahib, popularly referred to as the Golden Temple.

Bhai Amrik Singh, the Chair of the Sikh Federation (UK), said:

‘Despite David Cameron’s attempt in mid-January 2014 to limit the political damage by getting the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to produce and present a report to Parliament with unprecedented speed, we have been successful in winning the wider debate for a fuller independent inquiry and not letting this be brushed under the carpet.’

‘The terms of reference of Heywood’s internal inquiry for David Cameron and the associated report were intentionally kept very narrow and limited to a time period that avoided the link between military assistance for the attack on our holiest shrine in return for increased trade with India.’

‘We said it would only be a matter of time before further revelations and the inevitable need for an independent public inquiry. By the time of the 30th anniversary of the June 1984 massacre we had already secured the support of over 200 UK politicians - MPs, MEPs, Prospective Parliamentary Candidates, MSPs and Welsh Assembly members from nine political parties. With the General Election around the corner this number is expected to double in the next few months.’

‘Whilst the Conservative led Coalition weathered the initial storm we predicted this would become a major issue for the Sikh community in the May 2015 General Election as the Coalition had failed to come clean and share the truth of how the British Sikh community were not only let down by the UK Government 30 years ago, but also systematically demonised at the request of the Indian authorities in exchange for promises of trade.’

Later this month the Sikh Federation (UK) will be releasing the Sikh Manifesto 2015-2020 and naming a prioritised list of 50 target seats where the 700,000 strong Sikh community can determine who is elected in May 2015. Letters are also being sent today to the leaders of each of the main political parties to clarify their positions by 31 March with regards to demands set out in the Sikh Manifesto so the British Sikh community can be advised on the merits of each of the political parties.

The Conservative led Coalition is expected to come under increased pressure next week when Parliament returns to respond with a wider independent inquiry or risk alienating the vocal British Sikh community in the crucial run up to the May 2015 General Election. Following the latest revelations the Liberal Democrats may break ranks and choose this opportunity on the eve of the General Election to back an independent public inquiry.

A number of Labour MPs are preparing to raise the latest revelations in Parliament and there is already pressure on the Labour Frontbench to beat the Conservatives to it by formally confirming that if they come to power they will hold a wide-ranging independent public inquiry into the role of the Thatcher Government in the mid 1980s.

Revelations from November 1984:

Last week newly-released files from the Irish National Archives under the 30-year rule have revealed how Margaret Thatcher in November 1984 was paranoid about British Sikhs. It is hugely surprising Thatcher would bring up the Sikh question while discussing Irish nationalists, but this reflects her mindset following Indian Government pressure to silence Sikhs in the UK in the wake of the Genocide of Sikhs in June and November 1984.

On Sunday 18 November 1984 British Sikhs wanted to celebrate the birth of the first Sikh Guru by holding a religious in London. However, Margaret Thatcher, Geoffrey Howe and Leon Britton feared Sikhs may use the occasion to raise voices of protest regarding the truth of the November 1984 Sikh Genocide.

The Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe stated in a full Cabinet meeting on 15 November 1984 that if the religious procession took place on 18 November ‘it would create the danger not only of inter-communal violence in the United Kingdom, but of profoundly serious repercussions on relations between the United Kingdom and India including, for example, a possible trade boycott.’ There was no possibility of inter-communal violence; the only worry was trade with India.

The minutes of the Cabinet meeting on 15 November show Geoffrey Howe stated: ‘In view of the importance of the British political and commercial interests at stake, it would be necessary to explore every possibility of preventing the march from taking place.’

Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister summed up the discussion by stating: ‘that the Government, faced with the possible consequences of a Sikh march in London, should not remain passive’ and suggested even a postponement of the religious procession ‘offered no satisfactory solution’ implying there should be a ban.

The Cabinet meeting minutes of 22 November 1984 shed more light on Indian Government pressure. Geoffrey Howe stated: ‘the British High Commission in New Delhi had reported continuing threats in Indian governmental circles of a trade boycott in the event of behaviour by the Sikh community in the United Kingdom which the Indians might regard as provocative. This posed a serious risk: export contracts worth £5 billion could be at stake. The march by Sikhs in Central London, which had been due to take place on 18 November, had been banned (by the Home Secretary).’

Revelations from 1985:

Reading the various papers, you get the impression that Sikhs in Britain were religious extremists wanting nothing less than the violent overthrew of the Indian state by all means and establishment of a separate Sikh state with no mention of the 1984 ‘Genocide’ acknowledged last week by the Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

On Valentines Day in 1985 the Cabinet met to note down the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ ‘irritation over the activities of Sikh extremists.’ Soon, alarm bells start ringing at a meeting held at 10 Downing Street to discuss the ‘Sikh demonstration in Hyde Park’ set for 8 April.

‘The Indian Government would not readily understand an apparent failure by the British Government to contain the activities of such extremists to their sedition purposes and the risk of damage to Anglo-Indian relations was very considerable.’

‘It was the clear view of the Cabinet that it would be in the public interest that the rally should not take place.’

At the 25 April 1985 Cabinet meeting the mask slips off with discussions about the sale of the Westland Helicopters to India, which points to the very reason why, in the end, the Thatcher government was so obsessed with appeasing New Delhi.

More shocking, the 6 June 1985 Cabinet meeting leads with the topic of ‘Sikh violence’, referring to the peaceful protest outside the Indian High Commission in London on the 1st anniversary of the attack on the Sri Harmandir Sahib or Golden Temple. Beside one arrest for burning an Indian flag, no other incident, or any violence took place.

On 25 July 1985 the Sikh Sports Tournament due to take place in West Bromwich is discussed. These were no Olympics and no threat to the Indian state, but as the organisers named the tournament in honour of former Indian PM, Indira Gandhi’s assassins Margaret Thatcher hurriedly sent her advisors to exert ‘heavy pressure’ on the organisers to retract the names.

Information being deliberately withheld

The David Cameron government has withheld the release of Punjab-related documents for 1985 and 1986 from a large cache of official documents declassified earlier this week. Four files related to India have been withheld: three from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) listed as ‘temporarily retained’, and one from the Cabinet Office described as ‘retained under section 3(4) of the Public Records Act, 1958.

The three PMO files withheld are: ‘Visit to UK by LK Jha, member of the Brandt Commission and adviser to Indira Gandhi: meetings with Prime Minister’ (04/07/1983-21/03/1985); ‘UK/Indian relations: situation in Punjab, activities of Sikh extremists; proposed visit to UK by Rajiv Gandhi in June 1985; part 4’ (05/03/1984-22/05/1985); and ‘Assassination of Indira Gandhi, October 1984: Prime Minister’s visit to India to attend funeral’ (31/10/1984-12/12/1984). The Cabinet Office file withheld is listed as ‘India: Political’ (04/05/1979-08/08/1985).

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK)

www.sikhfeduk.com |sikhfederationuk@yahoo.co.uk | facebook.com/Sikh Federation UK | twitter @Sikhfeduk

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