Gurpreet Singh: NDP MP Jasbir Sandhu ruffles feathers by sponsoring WSO dinner
A New Democrat MP from Surrey North, Jasbir Sandhu, has raised many eyebrows within moderate circles in the Sikh community.
This comes as a result of Sandhu sponsoring a dinner organized by the World Sikh Organization (WSO) in Ottawa early next month.
The WSO, which supports an independent Sikh homeland, is holding its annual parliamentary dinner on June 1 at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa. NDP leader Jack Layton is expected to attend.
Colin Henry Gonsalves, a human-rights activist and a senior advocate from India, will be a keynote speaker. The event is being held in memory of those who died during a military raid on the Golden Temple complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, in Amritsar, India in the first week of June 1984.
The army action, known as Operation Blue Star, was launched to flush out religious extremists who had fortified the shrine. The attack stirred angry protests by Sikhs around the world.
The WSO came into being in the wake of the controversial military operation and has been organizing events since then.
WSO office manager Ajit Singh Sahota, who sent out invitation for the June 1 dinner, confirmed to the Straight that the annual event was aimed to remember "martyrs of the June 1984 holocaust".
He also confirmed that the WSO supports the formation of Khalistan, a Sikh homeland, through democratic and peaceful means.
According to Sahota, Sandhu agreed to sponsor the event when he was approached. Sahota maintained that previous Liberal MPs, like David Kilgour, Herb Dhaliwal, and Sukh Dhaliwal, had also sponsored the WSO's annual parliamentary dinners in the past.
Ironically, Sandhu is the son of Ajit Singh Ankhi, a veteran Marxist leader from India who opposed Khalistan and Sikh extremism.
Pro-Khalistan terrorists are blamed for the murders of about 300 Communists in the Indian state of Punjab.
Sandhu, who is the NDP public-safety critic, claimed that he was asked by his party to sponsor the event.
He told the Straight that there is no big deal with the event as WSO dinners have been sponsored by Liberals in the past.
After being asked whether or not the WSO supports Khalistan, Sandhu said, "I have nothing to do with their agenda."
Meanwhile, Indo Canadian Workers’ Association leader Kulwant Dehsi, a Marxist himself and a staunch opponent of Khalistan, told the Straight that Canadian politicians have been courting the Sikh separatists for years, but this was not expected from Sandhu.
"We are shocked," Dehsi said.
Surjit Kalsi is a former moderate Sikh temple leader who lost his first cousin in the 1985 Air India bombing—a terrorist act blamed on Sikh extremists.
"The progressive politicians often take our support for granted but end up courting the fundamentalists to please everybody," Kalsi said.
Gurpreet Singh is a Georgia Straight contributor and the host of a program on Radio India. He's working on a book tentatively titled Canada's 9/11: Lessons from the Air India Bombings.