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Pro-Khalistan group's access to US lawmakers raises concerns

April 29, 2013 16:03 IST

A marginalised Sikh group, which in the past had known supporters of Khalistan, has once again gained access to the powerful corridors of the Capitol Hill, raising concerns for India -- this time piggybacking on the issue of hate crime that the community is facing in the US.

When more than two dozen lawmakers announced formation of the first-ever Sikh American Congressional Caucus last week at the Capitol Hill, it was the presence of quite a number of individuals and representatives of organisations, who in the past have openly supported Khalistan, raised eyebrows among the friends of India in Washington.

"Sikhs who were present in the Sikh Congressional Caucus event in Washington were of the ideology of pro-Khalistan," said Dalwinder Singh Dhoot, chairman of California-based North America Punjabi Association said in a statement.

A number of eminent Sikh American organisations including NAPA were not invited either to the announcement ceremony on April 24 or at the reception held at the Capitol Hill. Neither was there any representation from the Indian embassy.

"Neither we had any information about this Sikh Congressional Caucus nor were we invited to attend the event due to the reasons unknown to them (organisers)," NAPA spokesman Satnam Singh Chahal, said, adding that it looks like that the 28 US Congressmen who are its founding members have been "taken for a ride" by this pro-Khalistan group.

"Yes, yes, yes" Chahal told PTI when asked if the Congressmen "have been deceived" by this pro-Khalistan group.

"It is a big mystery as to why the majority of Sikh community was kept out of this," he said.

The bi-partisan Sikh American Congressional Caucus is co-chaired by Congresswoman Judy Chu from the Democratic Party and David Valadao from the Republican Party.

Chu told PTI last week soon after announcing the formation of the group that their focus would be on solely "domestic issues" mainly hate crime and enlisting Sikhs in the US Army and that they will not use this platform for "foreign issues" including the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India.

However, Sikh supporters of the group, who helped in pulling this together, noted that this is the first step in their larger goal.

"Our objective remains the same, but the path has changed. Now we will pursue our goal through dialogue and debate," a Sikh leader present at the launch had told PTI.

Veteran community leaders told PTI that several of the individuals present at the launch event and at the reception have been blacklisted by India and in the past have had not only supported militancy in Punjab but also had held protests in front of the Indian Embassy in support of Khalistan.

The Indian Embassy in Washington, which was "conspicuously not invited" to this important event, what many term as a historic one, has said it has always stood for the protection of the interests of all Indian Americans including members of the Sikh American community.

Insiders in the Sikh American community, who worked behind scenes for the creation of the Sikh Caucus, told PTI that the Indian embassy officials had expressed their apprehension to the lawmakers about the presence of individuals and groups who in the past have worked against it.

An official of a New York-based Sikh advocacy group told PTI, this was one of the reasons that none from the Indian embassy were present at the launch event, which for the pro-Khalistan group is being billed as their major "diplomatic victory" against India after a long time.

However, the lawmakers, well aware of India's apprehensions, have asserted that the goal of this caucus is to address the issue of "hate crime" against the Sikhs US, as the community has been a major victim of it post 9/11.

"Rest assured, this platform will not be used against India. We are aware of the strategic importance of India-US relationship," a Congressional aide told PTI on condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the press.

"The Sikhs are prominent personalities in all walks of Indian life and contribute significantly to India's progress and wellbeing. Our friends and interlocutors in the US Congress are aware of this approach which was demonstrated in full measure when the Oak Creek killings took place in August of 2012," M Sridharan, spokesperson of the Indian embassy, told PTI in response to a question.

"The embassy looks forward to working closely with the members of the newly constituted Congressional Caucus, the American Sikh community and members of the vibrant Indian American community in consonance with the intended objective of the Caucus and to further strengthen the India-US strategic partnership," Sridharan said.

Noting that the announced aims of the Caucus seek to protect the daily lives and uphold the civic rights of Sikh Americans who are an important part of the many-splendored mosaic of American democracy, he said the embassy believes in upholding the interests of the Sikh community.

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