Gurpreet Singh: Canada-India framework on terrorism remains silent on Hindutva extremism

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      If the joint statement on cooperation between India and Canada on countering terrorism and violent extremism is any indication, it is the pro-India Hindutva lobby and not the Khalistanis who enjoy any influence in Canadian politics.

      Hindutva is an ideology that purports that India belongs to the Hindu majority, and that minorities should never enjoy special treatment.

      The joint statement is not only silent over the growth of Hindutva extremism, it squarely blames Islamic and Sikh militant groups for violence and terror.

      In other words the joint statement mimics the narrative of the Indian state on terrorism: there is hardly any acknowledgement of the threat Hindutva forces pose to peace and diversity. 

      For the record, it is important to clarify that Hindutva is different from the religion of Hinduism and the two terms should never be confused. Hindutva is more like a political weapon used in the name of Hindu identity by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its apologists.

      The joint statement is based on an understanding between the law enforcement and security agencies of both countries that “resolved to step up their bilateral cooperation under the supervision of the National Security Advisor’s Dialogue, the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism and its Experts' Sub-Group”.  

      However, as one proceeds further, it only establishes this as a one-sided policy document that perceives this threat coming from the minority terror organizations alone.

      Not a single reference is made to Hindu terror groups involved in large-scale violence against minorities and political critics in India under the Modi government.

      The statement goes on to name the minority groups specifically. “They (law and enforcement and security agencies) are committed to work together to neutralize the threats emanating from terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, ISIS, the Haqqani Network, LeT, JeM, Babbar Khalsa International, and the International Sikh Youth Federation”.

      From the announcement one can conclude that it benefits India more than Canada, considering the bad media coverage that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau generated as soon as he started his weeklong visit to India. Many commentators have accused him of being soft on the Sikh separatists in Canada.

      After all, the conspiracy of the Air India bombing that left 329 people dead on June 23, 1985, was hatched on the Canadian soil. The crime was blamed on the Babbar Khalsa, which is a banned Sikh terror group in Canada.

      The security agencies continue to claim that this was done in retaliation for the repression of Sikhs in India in 1984.

      The armed insurgency for a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan had big support in Canada. Although the movement is long dead in Punjab, Indian politicians have tried to keep its fear alive to polarize Hindu majority votes.

      Messages like this appear at Vaisakhi celebrations in Surrey, B.C., but the movement for an independent Khalistan died out in India many years ago.
      Charlie Smith

      They still believe that Khalistanis have a complete influence over political parties in Canada.

      Though Khalistan supporters have a strong presence in many South Asian ridings, their activities are mostly confined to propaganda in the absence of any popular support in Punjab, where the people have moved on.   

      Under intense attack from the Indian leadership and media, Trudeau was forced to say that he supports a “United India"—a slogan that remains popular with the mainstream Indian political parties, including the right-wing BJP that aspires to transform India into a Hindu theocracy.

      Ever since the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, Hindu right wing groups have intensified violent activities.

      Not only are minority communities, particularly Muslims and Christians, potential targets, political critics of the BJP and its policies within the Hindu community are also threatened, intimidated, and sometimes killed.  

      Notably back in 1948, the world-renowned leader of the passive resistance movement, Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated by Hindu extremists.

      Gandhi was killed for opposing violence against Muslims during the Indo-Pak partition in 1947.

      That was the first high-profile act of terrorism in the post-British India by Hindu extremists.

      The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)—an ultra-Hindu nationalist organization of which the BJP is a political wing—was briefly banned after the assassination. The killer of Gandhi belonged to this group.

      Although the RSS denies its involvement in the murder, some BJP leaders have created controversies by attacking Gandhi and glorifying his assassin, Nathuram Godse, as “a patriot”. It is pertinent to mention that Modi is an RSS member. 

      During Trudeau’s visit, an event was organized in Modi’s own constituency of Varanasi to glorify Godse and his philosophy.

      Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse (right), who's venerated by some supporters of Indian prime minister Narendra Modi.

      Some of Hindutva groups have also been linked to bomb blasts targeting Muslim localities and their places of worship.

      One such group was complicit in the bombing of Samjhauta train service that connects India and Pakistan on February 18, 2007. That attack left 68 people dead, mostly Pakistani Muslims.

      There are indications that the BJP government is using its influence to save the conspirators and shift the blame to Islamic extremists.

      Incidentally, Trudeau was in India on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy, which was completely overlooked even by the Indian media that was more obsessed with the issue of Khalistan and its relationship with Canada.

      The Hindutva groups involved in bombings owe allegiance to the ideology of Godse. 

      Ironically, Trudeau visited the spiritual centre of Gandhi in Gujarat and yet he never stated anything in relation to the growing extremism and violence in India by those who see Godse, and not Gandhi, as their hero. This is despite the fact that Canada claims to be a human rights leader in the world.

      Justin Trudeau's family paid their respects to Mahatma Gandhi, but the prime minister remained silent about Hindu extremists who are undermining Gandhi's legacy.
      Justin Trudeau

      Meanwhile, Narendra Modi strongly condemned separatist forces (read Sikh extremists) active in Canada. He categorically stated that their designs to disintegrate India will not be tolerated.

      Likewise, when Trudeau met Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who has been openly accusing Trudeau government of patronizing Khalistanis, he didn't raise any concern over human rights abuse sand state violence in Punjab.

      It was Amarinder Singh who controlled the conversation in which he also gave Trudeau a list of nine Canadians whom the Punjab government claims are conspiring to disturb peace in his state.

      Trudeau missed an opportunity to counter him about the recent arrest and torture of a Sikh activist: Jagtar Johal from the U.K.

      Johal has been campaigning for justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre engineered by Amarinder Singh's Congress Party.

      Canadian Sikh MPs had previously made statements in support of Johal, who many believe is being framed by the Punjabi police for series of isolated political killings in the recent months.

      Intriguingly, Trudeau did not even dare to challenge Amarinder Singh for his tirades against Canadian politicians. Rather he assured Singh that his government does not support separatism. 

      The Modi government in particular and the Indian government in general have always been critical of Islamic and Sikh extremists and blamed them for threatening the peace and unity.

      But we rarely hear them saying anything like that in terms of Hindutva terror.

      The list of the banned terror groups of National Investigation Agency (NIA) in India too does not include a single Hindutva organization even though the NIA has been investigating some of the crimes committed by them. 

      Trudeau, therefore, has failed to achieve anything when it comes to challenging the threat of Hindutva extremism, which has sympathizers even in Canada and the United States, and has done everything that suits the Indian interests for the sake of free-trade relations.

      Respecting India’s sovereignty and trade relations is one thing, but to completely turn a blind eye to what is happening in that part of the world for pragmatic reasons is bad leadership.

      By doing so, Trudeau has given a cold shoulder to those in Canada who have been writing letters to him through their MPs to raise the issue of growing attacks on minorities in that country.

      Apparently in today’s world, it’s majoritarianism that works, which only weakens the case for a real and inclusive model of democracy. We can remain hopeful that anyone listens.