"Haven" for Sikh Separatists - India concerns

Modi Trudeau Canada India

Subramaniam Jaishankar, a career diplomat turned foreign minister of India, and his colleagues have been quite vocal in dubbing Canada as a 'haven' for Khalistani separatists; they are worried that Canadian cities have become unsafe for Indian diplomats.

This is a development following India-Canada diplomatic spat set-in motion by Prime Minister Justine Trudeau over the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar (45) in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population.

It is difficult, however, to gloss over the fact that the UK and the US were giving shelter to these elements much before they were lured by Canada's more liberal immigration policies. Put simply, foreign minister Jaishankar and his ilk should also be directing their ire at London, Washington and Canberra (if not some other capitals) with the same vehemence Delhi has reserved for Ottawa. Well, if verbal fuselage is capable of bringing results India wants.

The Sikh separatist movement may have been born in India but it did not take it long to establish roots in the UK way back in the 1960s and 1970s with Dr Jagjit Singh Chihan being a prominent leader. The Khalistanis exploited the Sikh diaspora to their end, even though to this day, the majority of the Sikh diaspora, as indeed the Sikh community within India, has refused to support the Khalistan concept of an independent nation for the Sikhs, carved out of India.

True, Canada appears to be in a special category because not only India but two of its neighbours, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, have also accused it of giving refuge to fugitives wanted in their respective countries on serious criminal charges.

AK Abdul Momen, the economist-diplomat turned foreign minister of Bangladesh, is making a pointed attack. Canada is giving shelter to a Bangladeshi traitor, he says. His reference is to Noor Chowdhury who was involved in the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman (hailed universally as the father Bangladesh) and nearly all his family at their Dhaka residence on August 15, 1975. Canada has turned stone deaf to requests from Dhaka for sending Noor back to stand trial.

Sri Lanka is sore with Canada for letting in Tamilians suspected of links to separatist Tamil Tigers. Also, for marking May 18 as 'Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day' when, Colombo says, no 'genocide' had taken place in the island nation. No surprise, Foreign Minister Ali Sabry says, "terrorists have found 'safe haven' in Canada, we support India's 'strong' response". He goes on to add: "I am not surprised with (Canadian Premier) Trudeau's outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations linking India's role behind Nijjar's killing."

While Jaishankar on the US soil was fulminating against the Canadians, reports came from Glasgow that the Indian high commissioner in the UK, Vikram Doraiswami, was prevented from entering the Gurdwara where he was invited as a guest. The police were informed in advance about the high commissioner's visit. He was stopped by three persons, who, the Gurdwara management said, were 'outsiders', and "not regular local visitors".

How just a group of three people was able to stop the Indian diplomat from entering the Gurdwara while the Gurdwara management watched helplessly? Why could the trio not be overpowered? Did the local police send any personnel to the Gurdwara or did the police merely assume that there was absolutely no threat to peace of any kind? A deeper probe is required.

It is possible that the police with caps and without caps in Scotland and the UK think that the Khalistani activists who swarm all over the country will always disperse after a 'peaceful' demonstration against Indian government, and its functionaries. This surmise glosses over the fact that the Sikh separatists advocate and justify violent means, and have been part of many plots to kill innocent people.

One of the most reprehensible plots attributed to the Khalistanis was the mid-air bombing of Air India flight 182, Kanishka (Boeing 747-237B), from Toronto to New Delhi on 23 June 1985. All the 329 aboard were killed when it exploded over the Atlantic about 190 kilometres (120 miles) off the coast of Ireland. It was the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history and the world's deadliest act of aviation terrorism until the September 11 attacks shook the US and the world at large 16 years later in 2001.

Canadian police arrested and tried a handful of people, according to Wikipedia, but only one person, Inderjit Singh Reyat, a dual British-Canadian national, was convicted in 2003 of manslaughter. He emigrated to Western Canada during the 1970s like fellow Punjabis, Talwinder Singh Parmar, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik, who became prominent in British Columbia and turned it as the largest centre of Sikhs outside India.

Canada may be loathe to admit now but its investigations showed that Kanishka bombing was part of a larger transnational terrorist plot that included a plan to bomb Air India Flight 301 from Japan as well. The 'second' bomb exploded before it was loaded onto the plane at Narita International Airport.

Investigations revealed that both the conspiracy and the bombs, which were stashed inside luggage, originated in Canada. The Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh militant and separatist group, was implicated in the bombings.

This digression into Kanishka proves Khalistanis are no angels of peace. The Khalistani demonstrators raise provocative slogans against India and use abusive terms against Indian leaders. They are not averse to indulging in violence. They carry swords and intimidate those who raise counter slogans against them. On many occasions there have been clashes between the pro-Khalistanis and those opposing them in Britain as well as in other countries.

In San Francisco, an attempt was made to burn the Indian consulate. In the UK, a Khalistani crowd, supported by a group of Pakistanis, tried to invade the Indian high commission; they succeeded in pulling down the Indian tricolor, and damage window glasses. Such scenes of vandalism are being repeated for more than a decade, but the New Delhi case has gone unheard with London, Ottawa and even Washington concerned with their liberal image.

In a manner of speaking, London is guilty of adopting this pulpit while granting independence to India 75 years ago. It gave shelter to A. Z. Phizo (16 May 1904 - 30 April 1990), who declared the independence of Naga region, (that more or less corresponds to present-day land-locked Indian province of Nagaland), one day before India became a free nation in 1947.

Put simply the West's fixation with 'rebels' is not a recent development.

There is a view that the Khalistani aggression on foreign soil is funded by Pakistan, which has enlisted their support for their dispute with India over Kashmir. Many Khalistanis, based in the UK, the US, Canada and other Western countries, are known to make frequent trips to Pakistan for briefing by their ISI masters and also to collect funds that the near-pauper nation somehow manages to provide because of its inexhaustible animus towards India. Some of these Khalistani leaders are known to bombard journalists (including yours truly) with telephone calls on issues like the Khalistani referendum.

The governments in the Western countries take no notice of the "undesirable activities" of the anti-India elements while offering them generous hospitality and allowing them to exploit 'freedom of speech' to the hilt. Also, of course, homilies to New Delhi, which of late has shown belligerence at international level India on the Khalistan issue.

The short point is that the job of taming the activities of the Khalistani militants is that of their host countries. Will the West, the Eldorado of the world, heed protests of India, the rising star of the East, which is courted to counter the Bamboo Capitalist?

Too early to say but mutuality of interests on display these days is a pointer to the turn of events!

Rama Rao Malladi is New Delhi based senior journalist and distinguished commentator on South Asian and Central Asian issues. He is a regular contributor to several publications in and outside India. His articles are featured in News Blaze.Rama is consulting editor to an English monthly.

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