The ‘Punjab Independence Referendum’ organized by the Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC) to gauge support for Khalistan was underway at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre, Westminster on Sunday, as throngs of British Sikhs lined up to have their voices heard.
The PRC which has been appointed by the US-based Khalistani separatist group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), had announced to hold the non-binding referendum earlier this month. The Commission consisting of “non-aligned direct democracy experts” are assigned with organizing and holding the referendum on whether Punjab should be independent.
The referendum which started on Sunday in London will also take place in other countries, including the US, Canada, Australia, and the region of Punjab, the commission stated.
PRC chairman M Dane Waters, a political strategist, writer and direct democracy advocate clarified that the commission’s role is to “help the SFJ conduct a referendum that is as consistent with international norms as possible”.
He added that although Sunday’s referendum is a non-governmental and non-binding one, ‘the result will be used as the basis for the Sikh community to request an official binding vote from the United Nations on establishing the Indian governed region of Punjab as an independent homeland for the indigenous people of whom Sikhs are the single largest group’.
The Indian government was already irked by the date chosen for the London referendum, as on October 31, 1984 anti-Sikh riots had erupted all over India following Indira Gandhi’s assassination by his bodyguards leaving 3,000 to 17,000 Sikhs dead.
The Indian government had fought zealously to forestall the intended referendum exercise and sent a dossier to the British government alleging Pakistan and Paramjit Singh Pamma, “an ordinary criminal”, for sponsoring the event. The UK government had rejected the request.
SFJ had promised assistance to Sikhs seeking visas to come to London to attend the rally and the following referendum. The organisation has reportedly booked rooms for participants travelling from outside the UK.
Caroline Lucas, from the Green Party of England and Wales and George Galloway, a former member of parliament and broadcaster have registered their support for the cause. In an interview given on an earlier occasion, Lucas had said that Sikh people have a right to determine for themselves whether they want to establish an independent Punjabi state.