The only thing worst than inviting Jaspal Atwal on an official tour was attempts by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government officials to invent a conspiracy theory that the Khalistani protagonist was planted in the delegation by India.
Indian officials were perhaps more furious at this suggestion than the inclusion of this controversial man in formal and informal events because, after all, India had removed him from a "blacklist" of terrorists not allowed to visit India some time back.
The prime minister has not realized that the situation in Punjab during the militancy days was not really similar to the question of Quebec. From 1978 to 1993, a period of brutal murders, rapes, kidnappings, and lawlessness kept the border state in chaos and anarchy. Tens of thousands died, while the functioning of normal civil society and state were paralyzed.
It was the same region that witnessed the largest migration of humans in the twentieth century, with more than a million causalities in 1947. The subcontinent’s division by the British witnessed mass killings, brutal rapes, looting, and chaos so barbaric and widespread that there is not a single person in Punjab who doesn't have someone from their extended family or a close relative who did not fall victim to this senseless violence.
These are lessons for history teachers, however: on Canadian land, elements of the Sikh secessionist struggle created their own heinous and brutal history. Air India Flight 182 was blown up, killing 329 Canadians, and two baggage handlers lost their lives at Narita Airport in 1985. For this most barbaric act of terrorism on Canadian territory, only one perso—a bomb maker—received punishment. The mastermind of this terrorist act, Talwinder Singh Parmar, was killed by Indian police in 1992 while crossing into India from Pakistan.
There were a number of other incidents, like a murderous attack on former premier Ujjal Dosanjh, and an assassination attempt on a visiting minister from the state of Punjab shook Canada’s Sikh community. A person associated with these two criminal acts was included on the "invite" list of the prime minister’s official functions in India. It was a slap to the face of Canadian society that someone charged with crimes in Canada could become a part of their prime minister’s entourage in a foreign country.
Unfortunately, it is not only Trudeau but various others who continue to pander to Sikh secessionist elements still involved in reviving the violence in the state of Punjab. The "bulk"-membership politics of political parties for nominations and leaderships has given high importance to these elements who control Sikh temples and various other Sikh organizations.
For community politicians, the politics of expediency has created a shortcut to the nomination process or even leadership races. The organizations and temples relying on the politics of Sikh grievances can appeal to a large segment of community members to sell memberships and collect money for political campaigns. Relying on this, politicians can enter legislatures and Parliament along an easier route because once nominated for a major party they can always count on the Canadian people’s blind faith in party voting.
We have the case of Jagmeet Singh winning the NDP leadership with these tactics. No wonder he had difficulty condemning temple displays praising terrorist Talwinder Singh Parmar while answering a pointed question from CBC’s Terry Milewski. Appeasement of terrorist-friendly elements has become a part of our politicians’ road to success in electoral politics. Herein lies the secret of invites to people like Atwal.
Trudeau’s caucus and cabinet has several Sikh politicians playing the politics of expediency to win nominations and collect campaign funds. They feel obliged to use anti-India rhetoric to maintain the loyalty of the Sikh community, which has some genuine grievances. For example, the massacres of the Sikhs in Delhi and other Indian cities in the aftermath of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi’s 1984 assassination reminds the community every year in the first week of November that the main culprits behind those pogroms were never punished.
However, as they say, politicians are too clever by half. While they raise the issue of Sikh grievances on a daily basis in Canada’s Sikh community, Sikh members of the Liberal caucus were mute on such issues during this recent trip to India. In fact, they were trying to distance themselves from Khalistani or any communal Sikh politics in unison.
As realists, we do recognize the use of sentimental issues to win votes in domestic politics; the point, however, is not to carry this habit on foreign trips.