|(From left) Indian high commissioner Jaimini Bhagwati and deputy high commissioner Rajesh Prasad
at an event held at Fitzroy Square, London, to remember Mahatma Gandhi. Pictures by Amit Roy
London, Oct. 2: Journalists attending a meeting today to remember Mahatma Gandhi on his birth anniversary picked up what could prove to be a useful bit of intelligence about the four bearded men who tried to kill retired Lt Gen. Kuldip Singh Brar on Sunday night in London.
Police were called at 10.40pm after the incident on Old Quebec Street, a pedestrianised cul de sac off Marble Arch where about the only feature of interest is an upmarket Indian restaurant, Les Porte Des Indes, which offers Indian food from Puducherry.
The former general, though 78, fought back “with abnormal strength” and though cut in the neck with a sharp knife, his intended assailants were unable to inflict the intended fatal cut on his throat.
“Now when I think back I can’t imagine how I fought with those three big guys. But I suppose being a soldier and having been in the army for so many years, one learns to defend oneself,” Brar told a TV channel last night.
As Brar’s wife screamed and members of the public raised the alarm, one of the assailants apparently dropped a mobile as the men panicked and made their getaway.
“With the mobile phone, police have everything they need to catch the men,” was a confident prediction.
Scotland Yard was today unable to confirm whether such a mobile had been picked up but it could prove a vital breakthrough if this is the case.
Brar, due to fly back to India today, told the television channel: “This was a pure assassination attempt on me. Even on Internet there are so many threats being sent to me to say that there have been many attempts on your life but they haven’t succeeded, but the next one will succeed. They’ve been after me.”
He further said: “On 6th of June, which is the anniversary of Bluestar, every year, particularly in London, the radical Sikhs come out in procession with banners and make pledges to kill me. So it was a pure assassination attempt.”
Brar said it was “obvious” the assailants were Khalistan sympathisers, who, he added, have wanted to kill him since Operation Bluestar.
Given most of the informal conversation at today’s ceremony in Fitzroy Square was about the violent attack on Brar, it is perhaps a little ironic that a retinue of speakers, led by the high commissioner, Jaimini Bhagwati, stressed the Mahatma’s non-violent teachings after floral bouquets were placed at the base of his statue.
Among the 100-150 people gathered on a fine autumn morning were diplomats, officials, journalists, members of local councils and faithful old India Leaguers.
No one spoke on the record but the background story is that Brar, who is entitled to security, comes to London frequently and had not asked for cover. His view is it that it is sometimes better to slip in and out of the UK unobtrusively without drawing attention to himself. He had not informed India House he was in London. Had he done so, India House would have told the foreign office which, in turn, would have passed the message eventually to protection officers at Scotland Yard.
Today, Scotland Yard had nothing to say about the progress in the case. It was being treated as an attempted murder rather than a terrorist offence. But given the interest of the Indian media, Metropolitan Police are aware this is a high-profile case.
Will the police get the four men?
“I don’t think so,” said a Sikh source plugged into the community.
What was the general reaction in the community to the attempt to kill Brar?
The man’s answer was matter of fact but shocking: “Most support it — given who Brar is.”
Twenty-eight years after Brar led Operation Bluestar against militants holed up in the Golden Temple in Amritsar, it seems the old fires have largely died down but the embers have not all been extinguished.
The official Indian view, to put it politely, is that the British could do a little more to track down and neutralise a hard core of pro-Khalistan militants — most Indian observers are assuming “no other group of men with beards would have an interest in trying to kill General Brar”.
Another view is that the issue of Khalistan is kept alive by small groups of Sikhs in gurdwaras and other associations as a way of raising funds — “It has become a business”.
It is likely there will be talks in Delhi between the external affairs ministry and British diplomats, who will be encouraged to root out the remnants of Sikh militancy in Britain.
“They have to do it for their own good,” is the official Indian view. “What happens in Britain won’t affect the situation on the ground in Punjab. They have to do it for their own good.”
Officially, the motive for the attack is unknown and so are the assailants. The crime was “attempted murder” but not an “assassination attempt”. So far.
Condemning the attack on Brar, Punjab state Congress chief Amarinder Singh today demanded that work on the Operation Bluestar memorial in Amritsar should stop as it was “provoking” such violence. Amarinder accused the Badal government of inflaming passions and not allowing “old wounds to heal” by building a memorial to those killed. The stabbing was a “result of this provocation,” he said.