‘Referendum 2020’: Pro-Khalistan group next campaign event in Pakistan

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Toronto, September 28: Pro-Khalistan group, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), plans to take its “Punjab Referendum 2020” campaign to Pakistan next year and make a series of announcements about how it will be executed.The activist group’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Singh Pannun said the next event will be held at Nankana Sahib in Pakistan’s Punjab province, at the gurdwara dedicated to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion who was born there.

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The event is being scheduled to coincide with celebrations of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, and is expected to attract tens of thousands of devotees from around the world to the site.

“We will be setting up the calendar for the non-binding referendum and making major announcements there, including details of the voting and the procedure, how we will do it and where it’ll be held,” Pannun said.

The SFJ launched its campaign with the London Declaration on August 12, resulting in India expressing its displeasure to the British authorities.

Pannun said the SFJ also plans to launch the process of registering volunteers for ‘Team Referendum 2020’ at Nankana Sahib. These volunteers will be expected to “guide voting” in countries.

On whether the SFJ needs permission from Pakistan to take its separatist campaign there, Pannun said, “We don’t need permission to go there, there’s no limitation to the international Sikh community getting visas. Everybody gets visa to pay respects as pilgrims and we will be going inside the gurdwara complex.”

While India is expected to put pressure on Pakistan to prevent the campaign, the possibility did not faze Pannun, who said, “No way, how many will they block? Pakistan doesn’t work for India, it’s a sovereign territory. I don’t see that happening.”

Shuvaloy Majumdar, a senior fellow with Ottawa-based Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said the SFJ’s event was “clearly designed” to provoke India.

“I can’t imagine it will be welcomed by New Delhi, and governments around the world have a responsibility to condemn and reject this secession movement,” he said, adding it was evident the movement “doesn’t seem to have a constituency in India, and to co-opt… an auspicious occasion with poisonous secession diminishes the founder of the faith”.

Pakistan’s high commission in Ottawa did not respond to queries from HT. Indian officials are assessing developments and did not wish to comment at this point.

Pannun said he wasn’t worried about the act leading to accusations that he was doing it on Pakistan’s behalf. The choice of venue seems to be an act of provocation since the SFJ originally planned to make the announcements in summer 2019, possibly in North America, even Toronto, where the campaign was launched last year. Pannun said the group had to “re- strategise” after India purportedly tried to “dismantle the campaign” through various means, including acting against SFJ and Pannun on social media.