British Sikhs have expressed outrage after being linked to an extremist group by Labour MP Khalid Mahmood. The Pakistani-born MP for Birmingham Perry Barr caused uproar by saying that a "Khalistan Zindabad" flag displayed at Vaisakhi festival celebrations in Birmingham was a link to a banned Sikh terrorist group.
Mahmood told BBC West Midlands on 26 April that "Khalistan Zindabad" ("Long live the Sikh homeland") was an explicit reference to the Khalistan Zindabad Force, an organisation banned by the EU. However, Sikh groups have slammed his comments, stating that the slogan had nothing to do with the terrorist group and that "Khalistan Zindabad" was a term commonly used by Sikhs campaigning for an independent Sikh homeland (Khalistan).
Gurjeet Singh, national press secretary for Sikh Federation UK, told IBTimes UK: "Khalid Mahmood as an MP has been irresponsible in making a factually incorrect statement to the BBC and bringing a very successful Vaisakhi event into disrepute."
Mahmood said organisers of the event should have been warned about the display of the flag and that they should take action to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. The flag being referred to featured a rifle alongside the words "Khalistan Zindabad".
The Khalistan Zindabad Force was added to the EU's list of banned terrorist organisations in 2005, and is also banned in India. Speaking to the BBC Asian Network on 27 April, Mahmood said that he had no objection to the Khalistan movement, but objected to the display of the rifle on the flag at the event.
However, Singh defended the use of the rifle, saying: "There have been no complaints to the organisers or police in any of these towns and cities. Police officers were not concerned about the banner or stall as they understood the assault rifle was symbolic of revolution and even posed for photographs."
Singh explained that the use of the rifle on the Khalistan Zindabad flags is a reflection on the Sikh's "struggle for equality and struggle against oppression and discrimination". He noted that the rifle had become a symbol of "resistance, revolution and liberation" for the Sikhs and likened it to the AK47-army assault rifles displayed on the flag of Mozambique and the emblem of East Timor.
Despite clarification about the flag from the Sikh Federation UK, Birmingham City Council distanced themselves from the Vaishaki celebrations and stated that the "terrorist flag" would have been taken down if they had been notified about it during the event.
A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council told the Press Trust of India: "We did not organise the weekend's Vaishaki celebrations. They took place at Handsworth Park so we are in effect the landlord for this event. If anyone had brought this terrorist flag to our attention, one of the council officers attending would have asked for it to be taken down, however, nobody did. That said the event was a wonderful family celebration."
IBTimes UK has approached Mahmood for comment.