A potentially major diplomatic row between India and the UK was averted on Tuesday when the nomination of a Khalistan supporter as a member of the House of Lords by Labour was either put on hold or withdrawn by the party leader Keir Starmer.
Dabinderjit Singh Sidhu, who is a principal adviser to the Sikh Federation UK, was proposed as one of the nominees by the Labour party for peerage for life to the House of Lords Appointments Commission, but when the list of ‘Political Peerages’ was released by Downing Street, his name was missing.
Indian quarters were watching the developments closely, but the list eventually included seven names recommended by the Conservative party, five by Labour and four individuals appointed as cross-bench (independent) members of the House.
Had Singh Sidhu’s nomination gone through, security officials insist it would have damaged relations just when PM Boris Johnson is due to travel to India on a defining visit to chart the next decade of bilateral ties and be the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations on January 26.
A senior official said on condition of anonymity: “If Starmer had not acted, the appointment would have not only damaged India-UK relationship and soured the visit of Prime Minister Johnson, but also raised questions over the new Labour leader seeking to make amends with the Indian community in UK after the downturn (in relationship) under (former leader) Jeremy Corbyn.”
“It would have undermined the foundations of India-UK cooperation, especially on its commitment to not allow its soil to be used against India and its integrity, and shaken the framework of cooperation on the matters of terrorism, which includes not legitimising the political faces of terrorism directed against each other,” another official added.
Singh Sidhu, a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), which is banned in India but whose ban in the UK was lifted in 2016, is an official of the UK’s National Audit Office. He is not considered a civil servant since the body is independent of the UK government. He and the Sikh Federation have been in the forefront in articulating pro-Khalistan claims. The group had campaigned for lifting the ban on ISYF in the UK, which was de-proscribed in 2016. The Officials quoted above believe the group includes several former members of ISYF.
The appointments commission says on its website it “plays no part in assessing the suitability of those nominated by the political parties, which is a matter for the parties themselves. Its role is to advise the Prime Minister if it has any concerns about the propriety of a nominee”. “The Commission takes the view that in this context, propriety means: i) the individual should be in good standing in the community in general and with the public regulatory authorities in particular; and ii) the past conduct of the nominee would not reasonably be regarded as bringing the House of Lords into disrepute”, it adds.