Gurpreet Singh: Sikh terror camp story could be linked to vicious Indo Canadian politics in B.C.

Some secularists appear to be more hostile to Sikh extremists than they are to Hindu extremists

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      Recent claims of Sikh separatists running an armed training camp in B.C. could be linked with ongoing, vicious Indo Canadian politics.

      Some prominent Indian dailies recently reported that supporters of Khalistan, an imaginary Sikh homeland to be carved out of northern India, are doing this training in the Fraser Valley town of Mission.

      If these reports are to be believed, those attending the camp are being trained to commit violent acts in the Indian state of Punjab. But the claim has been denied by both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the mayor of Mission.

      The stories were mainly based on inputs from intelligence agencies. They've alleged that a man arrested in Punjab has identified Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Surrey resident, as the organizer. Nijjar's Canadian passport number even appeared in one of these reports.

      The Khalistan movement started in Punjab following a deadlock between the Indian government and Sikh leaders seeking some extra rights and several religious concessions for their state.

      Not only were these demands ignored, but a parallel militant movement was propped up to weaken the cause of the moderate Sikh leadership.

      In 1984, the situation completely deteriorated after the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, became a nerve centre for political extremists. They were blamed for stockpiling weapons inside the place of worship and carrying out violence.

      An army invasion on the shrine to flush out militants left many people dead and heavily damaged buildings inside the complex. This enraged Sikhs across the world.

      Under these circumstances, the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. Her murder was followed by a well-organized massacre of Sikhs by leaders of the then ruling Congress party.

      These ugly political events strengthened the movement for Khalistan, which was not popular until 1984. Only a fringe element within the Sikh community advocated for a separate homeland prior to that year, which witnessed large-scale repression of Sikhs.

      The bloody fight for Khalistan left thousands of people dead, with the armed insurgency by Khalistani extremists lasting until the mid 1990s.

      Afterward, it lost popular support, partly because of state repression and partly due to atrocities committed by militants, who frequently targeted Hindus and their critics. 

      However, the movement continues to survive in Canada, where supporters of Khalistan have control over many temples and retain influence within different political parties.

      Although the movement has lost much needed mass appeal  back home and even to some extent in Canada, recent reports of an alleged terror camp have raised an unnecessary alarm.

      Close scrutiny of these reports and the framing of the entire narrative by the Indian press indicate that such alarm might have been raised by the opponents of Khalistan in B.C., where Sikhs are divided mainly between two camps: those who identify themselves as Khalistanis and others who describe themselves as pro-India moderates.  

      Hardeep Singh Nijjar (left) and Sikhs for Justice spokesperson Jatinder Singh Grewal.
      Gurpreet Singh

      Media reports are largely attributed to unnamed sources in Indian intelligence, which has its moles within the Sikh community in Canada. They could be in any of the two camps. But the moderate camp is openly pro-India and that's why there are reasons to believe this whole episode could be linked with the fight between the two sides.

      Ever since Justin Trudeau came to power last year with a majority, there have been murmurings against him within moderate Sikh circles. He has been accused of patronizing Khalistanis. His cabinet has at least two Sikh ministers, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Navdeep Singh Bains, whose families have been associated with the World Sikh Organization that once supported the demand for Sikh sovereignty.  

      Based on this understanding, a section of moderates in B.C. has been openly attacking Trudeau. The fight came out in the open when Sajjan won the Liberal nomination for his Vancouver South riding. This was a jolt to the moderate group that wanted to see Barj Dhahan, a prominent businessman, as the Liberal candidate.

      To show their opposition to nomination of Sajjan, they revolted against the Liberal party and openly accused it of appeasing Khalistanis. This group has a relationship with the Indian consulate for obvious reasons. In the end, they experienced a humiliating defeat when Sajjan won the election.

      However, the spark has been simmering since then. According to Hardeep Nijjar's lawyer, Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, Nijjar has been to India a few times, which suggests that his passport number was available to Indian officials. Nijjar has acknowledged that he supports demands for the right to self-determination.

      That leaves us with a question about how his passport number landed in the Indian press. If we connect all these dots, one possible scenario is that the script for the entire story was written in B.C., especially by those ideologically opposed to the cause of Nijjar. The most important indicator of this is the framing of some of the stories, including one that stated that the Indian government has asked the Trudeau government, which has a baptized Sikh defence minister (read Sajjan) in his cabinet, to look into the reports of a terror camp.

      That explains why Sajjan was dragged into this controversy. It's a shame that most of these moderates, including handful of leftists and so-called secularists who've always claimed to be fighting against sectarian forces within the Sikh community, never raised a voice when Indian prime minister Narendra Modi came to the Ross Street Sikh temple in 2015. This temple is governed by the moderate group.

      Instead of opposing his visit on ideological grounds, some of them rather meekly welcomed him. This is despite the fact that Modi represents the Hindu nationalist Bhartija Janata Party under whose governance religious intolerance and violence against minorities have grown.

      These actions only reveal their sham secularism and blind support for Indian agents. Otherwise, why would they conveniently ignore sectarianism of one side and just talk about the other? Maybe because one side is powerful and the other is weak.

      Though it is fair to challenge the pro-Khalistan movement that is divisive as well as the violence perpetuated by its supporters, what should really bother true secularists is that Hindu fanaticism is not being challenged with the same zeal. Why such hypocrisy?

      Such double-speak is at the root of this controversy. And that serves the interest of Indian intelligence, which lacks the will to deal with a much more serious threat from Hindu nationalist terrorists in their backyard. All these vested interests came together to create this mess.