The brother of a Greater Vancouver Sikh millionaire acquitted of the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history has praised the chief of India's highly controversial foreign intelligence agency.
Harjit Singh Malik told the Punjabi TV channel Chardikla Time that it was due to Samant Goel, head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), that his brother could visit India.
Nearly 20 years ago, Ripudaman Singh Malik was charged in connection with the Air India Flight 182 bombing that killed 329 people on June 23, 1985.
The suitcase bomb used in the crime originated in Vancouver. The jet exploded above the Irish Sea and the attack was blamed on Sikh separatists based in B.C.
Malik was accused of being a financier of those who masterminded the bombing to avenge the repression of Sikhs in India. However, he was acquitted in 2005 because of the judge's concerns about the credibility of several Crown witnesses.
Malik is among hundreds of Sikhs in Canada who've previously been denied visas for being associated with the Sikh separatist movement.
As part of its policy to assuage old wounds, the right-wing Hindu nationalist government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently scrapped the blacklist of Sikh activist abroad.
Notably, the R&AW, which reports to the prime minister’s office, plays a major role in creating blacklists of those involved in anti-state activities outside India.
Malik’s visit to the country of his birth after more than two decades has already raised many questions in Canada. This is particularly so, considering growing attacks on religious minorities and political dissidents during Modi's time in office.
If this were not enough, Harjit Singh Malik told Chardikla Time that he's thankful to Modi and Goel for taking his brother’s name off the blacklist.
He went on to say in the presence of Ripudaman Singh Malik that Goel displayed guts and, despite being a Hindu, dealt with the issue candidly. He then added that he had a pleasant meeting with Goel.
It is pertinent to mention that Goel is a senior police officer from Punjab. He was posted in the region when the Sikh militancy was at its peak in the 1990s.
In 1992, another Air India suspect and the alleged mastermind, Talwinder Singh Parmar, died in police custody in Punjab under mysterious circumstance.
Parmar was the leader of Babbar Khalsa, a radical organization involved in an armed struggle for a separate Sikh homeland. He was never convicted for the Air India bombing.
However, the Crown and defence "generally acknowledged" that Parmar was "the leader in the conspiracy to commit these crimes", according to the B.C. Supreme Court ruling acquitting Ripudaman Singh Malik.
Parmar went back to India to pursue his struggle when he was captured and tortured to death. It's believed that he was killed extra-judicially as part of the state policy to suppress an armed insurgency in Punjab.
The Indian government keeps whining over his continued glorification by several Canadian gurdwaras—which have allegiance to the separatist movement—even though officials decided to give a visa to Malik.
That visa was granted even though the judge who acquitted him, Ian Bruce Josephson, emphasized that his verdict wasn’t a pronouncement of his innocence and was the result of a lack of evidence.
Malik comes from an affluent Sikh family in Punjab. He turned extremely religious in same era that the Congress government ordered a military attack on the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest Sikh shrine, in Amritsar, Punjab.
This military strike occurred in June 1984 to deal with a handful of militants. The invasion left many innocent pilgrims dead and destroyed historical buildings inside the complex. This event alienated Sikhs from the mainstream—and Malik was no exception.
The ill-conceived army operation led to the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984.
This high-profile murder was followed by an anti-Sikh massacre engineered by the then-ruling Congress party with the help of police and supporters of the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which currently holds power under Modi.
The ugly events of 1984 culminated in the Air India tragedy the following year.
There are Sikh activists who believe that the bombing was a well-thought-out conspiracy to defame their movement for Khalistan and might have even been planned and executed by R&AW agents involved in the plot.
Ripudaman Singh Malik has confirmed to the Straight that he was able to go to Punjab only because the Indian government has scrapped the blacklist.
According to him, what his brother meant to say should not be misinterpreted, as he was trying to thank everyone involved, including Modi.
Ripudaman Singh Malik added that he was longing to go to India so that he could visit the Golden Temple complex—and with God’s grace his wish was fulfilled.
On being asked for his take on growing violence against minorities under Modi, he simply said, "You are probably right, but I am thankful to him for giving me visa, although I have been trying to get it for the past many years."
He complained that even the former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, who was a Sikh himself, could not help him, whereas Modi came to his rescue.
"I am thankful to him for giving me $10," Malik said by way of analogy. "It is a separate matter that he has taken $10 from somebody else."