Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India has been eclipsed by the presence of a convicted former Sikh separatist on his guest list. What's not so apparent in the media coverage, however, is how this incident also speaks to the hypocrisy of the Indian state.
Jaspal Singh Atwal was previously associated with a banned terrorist group, the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF). He was invited to a dinner with Trudeau at an event hosted by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi.
Atwal was convicted of attempted murder for shooting at a Punjab cabinet minister, Malkiat Singh Sidhu, while he was visiting B.C. in 1986.
Atwal was also charged with the 1985 assault of Ujjal Dosanjh, who later became B.C. premier and who is an outspoken critic of religious extremism. Atwal wasn't convicted in this case.
All of this has obviously put Trudeau in an embarrassing situation as he is already being blamed by the Indian government for going soft on Sikh separatists in Canada.
It's believed that for this reason, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi snubbed Trudeau and did not show any enthusiasm in personally receiving him.
Meanwhile, Punjab's chief minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has raised the Sikh separatism issue in the past, claiming that Trudeau’s cabinet has ministers who sympathize with Sikh extremists who want to establish an independent homeland of Khalistan in Punjab through an armed insurgency.
The fathers of two Canadian cabinet ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Navdeep Singh Bains, were associated with the World Sikh Organization (WSO), which once supported the demand for a sovereign Sikh state. However, the WSO insists that it never endorsed violence and always advocated for using peaceful means to achieve its political goals.
Not surprisingly, Trudeau has come under attack from right-wing commentators in India who want him to act against Khalistan supporters in Canada.
The Atwal issue has added more fuel to the fire as several media outlets in India have described him as a Khalistan terrorist, just as many Indian leaders are outraged. Under these circumstances, Trudeau was forced to assure Amarinder Singh during his Punjab visit that he supports a united India and does not endorse violence and separatism.
The ISYF that was once active in Canada was banned after 9/11. The group was involved in violent activities when the Khalistan movement was at its peak before it died out in early 1990s.
Atwal is a changed man and does not support the creation of Khalistan anymore. But considering his background, his presence in India during Trudeau's visit has become controversial. His invitation has now been revoked and Trudeau has promised to take action.
Let's face it: Atwal has already served his time and has every right to participate in community events or be involved in political activities.
He has, after all, been a supporter of Trudeau's Liberal Party. It is pertinent to mention that he has also been a supporter of the B.C. Liberal party and landed in a similar controversy when he was invited to the B.C. legislature in 2012.
What remains a mystery, though, is how he got a visa to travel to India.
If the Indian government is so concerned about Khalistanis in Canada, we all need to know why and how Atwal was granted this travel document by a state that continues to question the Canadian government over this issue again and again.
This reflects rather badly on the Indian government that continues to create a false fear of a movement that died down a long time ago. So much so that Dosanjh, too, once helped Atwal several years ago when Atwal wanted to travel back to India.
More recently, Atwal visited India where he was honoured by a Delhi-based leader of the Akali Dal, which is the party that Malkiat Singh Sidhu belonged to.
This week, the political leadership of India is behaving like a proverbial pot that is calling the kettle black.
Rather than always scapegoating individuals like Atwal and Sikh activists supposedly seeking to create Khalistan, it should deal with growing attacks on religious minorities in India under Modi, who belongs to the right-wing Bhartiya Janata Party that aspires to turn the country into a Hindu theocracy.
The media too should be focusing on the actions of the Indian state, its doublespeak on religious extremism, and the way its agents in Canada are handling the issue of Khalistan instead of singling out Trudeau for criticism.More