London: India on Monday lodged a strong protest over the burning of the Indian flag outside its high commission on Saturday, India’s Republic Day, by pro-Khalistan supporters, while the Foreign Office said it is “disappointed” over the second such incident within a year.
The Indian mission sent a ‘note verbale’ to the Foreign Office and is set to raise the issue at various levels in the near future. The incident occurred after India had informed British security officials of the possibility of it happening on January 26.
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that anyone would choose to burn the Indian flag on any day, let alone the celebration of Republic Day, and we regret the upset that this will have caused.”
“We congratulate India on her 69th Republic Day celebration, and look forward to deepening our relationship further as we prepare to leave the European Union and forge new partnerships with key global allies.”
Videos and still images of the protest outside India House showed one flag being burned, others being stamped and kicked around by demonstrators shouting pro- Khalistan and anti-India slogans, holding placards with images of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national security advisor Ajit Doval in the presence of some British police personnel.
A Scotland Yard spokesperson said on Sunday: “We are aware of a social media video that appears to be from the demonstration outside India House in Aldwych on Saturday, 26 January. No allegations of crime have been reported. We are working to establish the exact circumstances of the video.”
The incident appeared set to spark another round of diplomatic tension on issues related to ‘Khalistan’ that have engaged the two countries since the mid-1980s. London and the UK have long been the base of groups and individuals supporting ‘Khalistan’.
Saturday’s was the second such incident in London within a year. The Indian flag was also mutilated in Parliament Square during the April 2018 visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting. India’s strong protest at the time had prompted an apology from the Foreign Office.
The Foreign Office said last week that Britain does “not condone” the burning of national flags: “We are proud to be a country that fiercely protects the rights of individuals to peaceful protest and free speech as essential parts of a vibrant democracy, provided that demonstrators act within the law.”
“We do not condone the burning of national flags, which is deeply offensive to most people,” the spokesperson had added.