Gurpreet Singh: India has no moral right to question Canada on terrorism

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      Blatant state patronage of ultra-Hindu nationalists involved in violent activities show the complete hollowness of the Indian government’s concern over terrorism.

      Widely known as world’s largest democracy, India continues to present itself as a victim of international terrorism originating from neighbouring Pakistan and countries like Canada.

      If India is to be believed, Pakistan has been aiding and abetting Muslim and Sikh extremists from across the border to indulge in subversive activities, while the Canadian government remains soft toward Sikh separatists who want to carve out an independent state of Khalistan in northern India through violent means.  

      Despite being a secular nation, India has a long history of persecution of religious minorities, including Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Dalits (so-called untouchables). Hindu chauvinists from the majority community, on the other hand, have generally enjoyed overt or covert protection of the government.

      Under the current right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government, those seeking to turn India into Hindu theocracy by using violent means have become emboldened to act at will.

      The latest instance of open pandering of Hindu extremists is the nomination of a controversial female ascetic Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur as the BJP candidate from the state of Madhya Pradesh. Thakur was charged in connection with 2008 bomb blasts that left 10 people dead and around 80 others injured.

      The bombings were aimed the Muslim community. Thakur is part of an ultra-Hindu nationalist terror organization. The BJP embraced her in spite of the fact that she continues to face the trial and has not been acquitted. The party wants to win the ongoing general election by any means, including polarization of voters on religious lines. 

      Had any other party nominated a Muslim or a Sikh candidate with similar credentials, the BJP would have been up in arms.

      Not very long ago due to the failure of the prosecution, Swami Aseemanand, another Hindu ascetic, was acquitted by the courts in the infamous Samjhauta Express blast case.

      In 2007 a bomb was placed onboard the Samjhauta rail train service, which was launched to strengthen contact between India and Pakistan. The explosion left 68 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims returning to their homes after visiting relatives in India.

      Prime Minister Narendra Modi knew Aseemanand personally when Modi was a chief minister of Gujarat, which witnessed an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002. Though Modi was never charged for the crime, survivors and human rights activists have claimed that he was complicit in the massacre.

      Modi blasted the Indian police back then for arresting people like Aseemanand and Thakur. The BJP continues to claim that they were charged as part of a conspiracy to malign Hindus by the then Congress–led government in New Delhi. 

      Ever since the BJP came to power under Modi with a brute majority in 2014, there were apprehensions that all those arrested for these bombings would be freed.

      The first indication came in 2015 when a public prosecutor Rohini Salian spilled the beans. She told the media that she was asked to go soft on cases involving Hindu extremists.

      One does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand how Aseemanand has been acquitted or why the BJP is so adamant to field Thakur as its candidate.

      Had these individuals been from the minority communities, in all probability they would have been killed in faked encounters by the police, a practice still frequently used in the name of war on terror by the Indian government.

      Even as the BJP has been sheltering Hindu extremists, the previous government also failed to ban them—unlike minority extremist groups—to avoid a backlash from the majority community. 

      Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was nominated as a BJP candidate while facing terrorism-related charges.

      Indian government demonstrates double standard

      Canadians should know that Talwinder Singh Parmar—a Canadian Sikh militant, who was a potential suspect and alleged mastermind in the Air India case—was murdered in a staged shootout by the Indian police in 1992.

      Air India Flight 182 was bombed mid-air in June, 1985, killing all 329 people on board. The crime was blamed on Canada-based Sikh separatists.

      India has been consistently accusing the Canadian government of giving safe refuge to Sikh separatists since then, even though the Khalistan movement has long fizzled out because of lack of mass support. Yet an amendment in Canada’s public safety report on terrorism reflecting this has outraged the Indian leadership. 

      The report first tried to club the Sikhs and Khalistani extremism together, sparking widespread criticism that it fuelled racial stereotypes. The backlash led to the amendment. 

      In response to this, the Indian leaders have started accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of bowing down before Sikh separatists in Canada. Even apologists of the Indian state in Canada remain critical and won’t stop blaming Canadian and Pakistani governments of patronizing anti-India forces.

      Whenever any elected official visits a Sikh temple that supports Khalistan, Indian officials posted in Canada make a note and react sharply. But if political visits to these temples is problematic and gives legitimacy to violence and extremism, so does the patronizing of Hindu chauvinists by a so-called secular republic.  

      The reality is that India needs to look itself harder in the mirror. Unless the Indian state deals with Hindu extremism firmly, it cannot rest in peace. The majoritarian extremism is always more dangerous and counterproductive in terms of creating further alienation of minorities and giving strength to separatism.  The Muslim and Sikh extremism in India are a byproduct of state-sponsored repression of minorities.

      Pointing fingers at others is always easy. If India thinks that the world should listen to its concerns over international terrorism, then it should first set its own house in order. As of now, India has already lost its moral right to question others on this inconvenient issue.