LONDON: Thousands of Sikhs thronged the here on Sunday to demand a sovereign state of Punjab as several hundred Indians celebrated in front of the National Gallery just outside the Square in a separate rally.

The , called , was organised by US-based (SFJ). The purpose of the rally was to kick-start a campaign for a non-binding referendum on Punjab‘s independence in 2020.

The protesting Sikhs, who were joined by some separatist Kashmiris, waved yellow Khalistan flags and carried placards saying “We will re-establish Punjab as an independent country” and “Punjab Referendum 2020 for Khalistan”.

There was a tense moment at 2.30pm local time when some of the Sikh protesters surged off the Square to confront the pro-India rally. A huge group of Sikhs started walking towards the Indians who were peacefully celebrating Independence Day. The Metropolitan Police quickly stood in a line in front of the Sikhs, who were just yards away from the pro-India group. The cops persuaded the Sikhs to go back to the Square, where they had permission to be, following which they backed off.

The pro-Khalistan rally began with prayers by a Sikh priest. The atmosphere was calm and peaceful. Those TOI spoke to were all Sikhs living in Britain and it was not clear if any Punjabi from India had attended the rally. Some of the protesters said they felt Sikhs were treated unfairly in India and did not have equal rights. They spoke of Scottish Sikh Jagtar Singh Johal who had been “unfairly imprisoned”.

Dave Panesar, 72, had travelled from Birmingham to be part of the London Declaration. “I support this rally because India is not giving us justice,” he said.

Karam Singh, 26, from Bristol said: “India belongs to Sikhs. We were kicked out of Pakistan and put in India, and we don‘t have our own place to liveā€¦ If we have our own state in India, Sikhs will run it.”

On the other hand, the pro-India crowd celebrated Independence Day in front of the National Gallery. They beat drums, waved Indian flags and held out placards saying “Sikhs for United India” and “India Jai Ho”.

Jayu Shah, spokesman for Friends of India Society International (UK), said: “The issue is that this mob is funded and run by Pakistan. India is too patient. It is time India woke up and dealt with Pakistan, which is the epicentre of terrorism. You can see Kashmiris and Khalistanis here – they are all terrorist groups as far as we are concerned.”

Jayesh Patel, treasurer of the pro-India organisation, said: “We are celebrating as we are very close to India‘s Independence Day. We are also celebrating India‘s diversity. India is the biggest democracy in the world and we don‘t want to see any part of it being split. We are here mainly to have a good time and make our point that there is another view to the one being expressed here (by the Sikh protesters). We feel these people are misguided in what they want.”
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