Amid ‘Referendum 2020’ row, Punjab hosts familiarisation trip for UK students

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Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Published: August 10, 2018 8:45:40 am

The group was hosted for dinner at Punjab Armed Police’s 82 battalion complex near the Civil Secretariat on August 7, the day they arrived in Chandigarh.

Days ahead of the August 12 ‘London Declaration’ for a pro-Khalistan ‘Referendum 2020’ campaign at Trafalgar Square, Punjab’s Amarinder Singh government is hosting 14 students from the United Kingdom on a “fam trip” to experience the “ground reality”, the culture and heritage of Punjab.

The visit marks the official launch of Connect With Your Roots (CYR) initiative of the Punjab government that was part of the Congress manifesto.

Earlier, the CYR programme was to get off the ground last November, but was postponed twice to time it with Lohri and Baisakhi festivals.

The Indian Express has learnt that the group was hosted for dinner at Punjab Armed Police’s 82 battalion complex near the Civil Secretariat on August 7, the day they arrived in Chandigarh. Punjab DGP Suresh Arora and DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta briefed the students at the dinner meeting which was attended by a slew of officials including an ADGP, IG, two principal secretaries to the Chief Minister and others.

The visiting batch, sources said, was briefed by the top brass of Punjab Police about the functioning of the Punjab Police, about the judiciary and about the “dark phase of militancy Punjab went through” and how Punjab Police “battled it out”.

However, sources maintained, there was “no reference” to ‘Referendum 2020’ during the briefing. When one student asked about the “massive drug problem” in Punjab, police officials responded that the issue was “being blown out of proportion” and “the problem of drugs was not limited to Punjab alone, but was everywhere in the world”.

A similar idea to invite batches of youths to Punjab was floated at the end off 2016 in a high-level meeting of security officials in Delhi in the wake of inputs from Punjab about various Sikh websites indulging in “false propaganda about various incidents during the days of terrorism, where Punjab Police was projected in bad light”.

A Punjab Police official said: “A number of ideas were floated in that meeting, including encouraging making movies like Border to enthuse a sense of nationalism.”

United States, Canada, Germany and Australia are among other countries under the CYR programme from where Punjab plans trips in the future. These countries have sizeable Sikh population. Intelligence agencies say pro-Khalistani elements in these countries were propagating their secessionist agenda.

The visitors from UK will fly back to London on August 17. On August 15, they will attend the state level Independence Day function at Ludhiana where Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is scheduled to unfurl the national flag. Later in the day, the CM will host them for lunch.

After arriving here on August 7, the batch visited Capitol Complex in Chandigarh and the Sukhna Lake on August 8. On Thursday (August 9), the batch visited Patiala and Fatehgarh Sahib. In Patiala, the members were taken to Gurdwara Dukhniwaran Sahib, National Institute of Sports, Punjabi University and Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law. In Fatehgarh Sahib, the group members were given a tour of historical gurdwaras.

They will visit the Bhagat Singh Museum in Khatkar Kalan on August 10, along with the Virasat-e-Khalsa and Guru Ravidass memorial in Khuralgarh. On August 11, the batch will visit Punjab Armed Police Complex in Jalandhar to witness a horse riding show and shooting. Later, the visitors will tour a sports goods manufacturing unit. On August 12, they will be taken to Amritsar, to visit the Jang-e-Azadi memorial on the way. They will visit the Golden Temple, Durgiana Temple, Ram Tirath Temple memorial, Jallianwala Bagh, Attari border and Gobindgarh Fort. On August 14, the batch will reach Ludhiana and visit the Punjab Agricultural University.

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