It was 2010. One of the organizers of the annual Vaisakhi parade in Surrey told a Punjabi radio station that former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh and then-MLA Dave Hayer were not invited to the event. If they wished to attend, they were advised to bring their own security.
The Vaisakhi parade in Surrey is organized under the aegis of Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple, which supports a movement for a separate theocratic Sikh state carved out of the Indian state of Punjab.
Most years, Sikh militants who supported violence and armed insurgency are glorified in the Surrey parade. Since Dosanjh and Hayer are known as staunch critics of Sikh extremism, the statement by Inderjit Singh Bains was taken as a threat.
Dosanjh was assaulted in 1985, while Hayer's father, Tara Singh Hayer, was murdered in 1998. Hayer senior died for being a critic of violence.
There was a very strong backlash from the mainstream media and the B.C. government to Bains's statement. Many commentators, including those in India, saw it as a sign of a growing threat of Sikh militancy in Canada.
The ugly memories of the Air India bombings were evoked. That's when 331 people died in two blasts on June 23, 1985. This mass murder was blamed on Sikh separatists who were seeking revenge for ugly political events of 1984, including an anti-Sikh pogrom after the assassination of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Now let’s fast-forward to 2015. In February, a man in Edmonton threatened to kill Anna Hazare, a renowned anti-corruption activist in India.
Hazare is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi—leader of the pacifist liberation movement in British India. Hazare has recently launched an agitation against the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Narendra Modi.
Hazare opposes a controversial land acquisition bill that might hurt farmers. Gagan Vidhu posted on Facebook in February that he will be the next Nathuram Godse and will kill this modern Gandhi.
Godse was a Hindu extremist who assassinated Gandhi in 1948. Godse was associated with Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS)—a Hindu nationalist organization that has hold over the BJP. The RSS was banned following Gandhi’s murder.
Vidhu has told some South Asian media outlets that he had once contested a local election in Punjab as a BJP candidate and has been associated with the RSS, but claims to have made the post in anger and had read nothing about Godse. He also claims that he once supported Hazare, but was upset at his decision to challenge the Modi government.
As compared to the 2010 incident involving the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple, this Facebook threat from someone in Canada against Hazare did not capture the attention of the mainstream media.
This is despite the murder of Govind Pansare—a leftist activist from the Indian state of Maharashtra in February. Pansare was opposed to glorification of Godse by Hindu extremists. His killing remains unsolved.
Both Pansare and Hazare are from Maharashtra, the birthplace of Godse. Only recently, a BJP MP described Godse as patriot while another Hindu nationalist group has launched a campaign to install Godse’s statues across India. Taking no chances, the Maharashtra government has beefed up security of Hazare.
Godse and his group wanted to establish a Hindu nation and saw Gandhi as a major roadblock in their designs. Following partition of India along religious lines in 1947 when Muslim Pakistan came into being, there were religious riots on either side of the border. Muslims were targeted by Hindu and Sikh fanatics on the Indian side, whereas Hindus and Sikhs were slaughtered by Islamic extremists across the border.
Gandhi tried to save as many Muslim lives he could during this violence. Even otherwise, Gandhi was against theocracy.
After five failed attempts on his life, Gandhi was shot to death by Godse on January 30, 1948. In spite of such threats, India chose to be a secular country.
However since then, Hindutva (pro Hindu state) forces have remained active and today, the BJP enjoys a brute majority in the parliament. Not surprisingly, under the Modi government these forces have become emboldened and are seeking removal of secularism from the preamble of the Indian constitution.
Modi has been widely blamed for anti-Muslim carnage in the Indian state of Gujarat during 2002 when he was chief minister there. The massacre followed the burning of a train that left over 50 Hindu passengers dead.
The Gujarat government accused Islamic fundamentalists of torching the train, which triggered anti-Muslim violence. Over the past several years, Hindutva extremists have also been caught in bomb explosions and clandestine terror activities against Muslim targets.
Godse’s niece has reportedly supported these activities. Yet, the Facebook threat did not create much sensation in Canada or India.
Credit goes to Ujjal Dosanjh that he sought action against Vidhu and is openly challenging Hindutva forces through his blog these days. But overall, a general silence prevails within the South Asian community and the mainstream against the increased threat of Hindutva extremism.
Moderates in the South Asian community (with exception of Dosanjh) who were critical of Sikh extremists in the past have maintained a studied silence, perhaps because the BJP rules India. There has not been a single public event in Vancouver to denounce the murder of Pansare or violence by Hindu fanatics by secularist groups within the Indian community.
There is no question that Sikh separatists have been involved in violence and hate crimes, but one cannot be selective in criticizing extremist elements of one community and ignoring extremist activities of others. Religious extremists from both communities complement each other.
Sikh separatism is a demon being fed by the Indian state and its apologists in Canada and the mainstream by remaining silent over Hindutva extremists. If most Indo Canadians were afraid to speak up against Sikh extremists due to fear of physical violence during 1980s, they are now fearful of a Hindu nationalist government that wields influence through consulates in Canada.
Apparently, Canadian leaders have not learned anything from the Air India tragedy. Rather, it took 9/11 for Canada to ban Sikh terror groups, like Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation.
If the government is sincere, it must keep an eye on activities of Hindutva supporters in Canada. There are groups in India who have Canadian backers and if Canada really cares, it must expand its terror list to include Hindutva organizations alongside Islamist and Sikh terror groups.
Or is Canada waiting for more bloodshed or another Air India–like tragedy?