Gurpreet Singh: Did religious bias lead Indian intelligence to falsely accuse a B.C. Sikh of terrorism?

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      In the light of recent controversy over an alleged terrorist camp in B.C., it's necessary to re-examine a decade-old bombing, which Indian police are trying to pin on a Canadian Sikh man.

      Surrey resident Hardeep Singh Nijjar was recently accused by Indian intelligence officials of running a terrorist training camp in Mission.

      The story was widely reported in the Indian press and was subsequently picked up by the Canadian media.

      Based on comments from unnamed Indian intelligence officials, Indian newspapers reported that Nijjar is a supporter of Khalistan, an imaginary separate Sikh homeland to be carved out of northern Indian state of Punjab. He's wanted in connection with a bomb blast that left six people dead in 2007.

      Nijjar’s picture and information about him also appeared on Interpol's list of most wanted. 

      Not only has Nijjar denied these allegations, but he has written to the Canadian prime minister seeking his intervention. An advocacy group called Sikhs For Justice has taken up his case, describing these charges as baseless.

      Most importantly, Canadian officials have rebuffed reports of a terrorist camp in B.C.

      What really happened in Ludhiana?

      The whole episode has once again brought into focus the October 14, 2007, bombing incident. The blast rocked a packed cinema hall in Ludhiana, Punjab, killing six innocent people. More than two dozen others were injured.

      Punjab police back then claimed that this could be the handiwork of either Sikh of Islamic extremists. To be precise, they looked into the possibility of the perpetrators being either the pro-Khalistan Babbar Khalsa group or Harkat-ul-Jehad-al-Islami.

      It's pertinent to mention that a significant number of the moviegoers were Muslims. And the occasion was the Eid festival.

      Fearing a sectarian backlash, police beefed up security in the city, especially in the Muslim-dominated areas, according to a report published in the Tribune.

      One can easily see that Muslims were potential targets. At least two among the dead who were instantly identified had Muslim names: Naushad and Shahub-ud-din.

      It seems that most of these victims were migratory labourers from the state of Uttar Pradesh. The cinema hall was screening a Bhojpuri film at that time. Bhojpuri is a dialect widely spoken in Uttar Pradesh.

      The 2007 bomb blast occurred in Ludhiana, Punjab (above).

      The explosion happened 72 hours after a similar attack on a Muslim shrine in Ajmer in the nearby state of Rajasthan. That blast left three people dead and 17 injured.

      Though in both cases the prime targets were followers of Islam, the Indian authorities had started looking into the possibility of these attacks originating from the Islamic republic of Pakistan.

      The two countries have always had hostile relations and have fought two major wars. Indian intelligence agents have time and again accused the Pakistani spy agency of sponsoring subversive activities from across the border.

      Pakistan is also often blamed for giving refuge to Islamic and Sikh extremists.

      Hindu extremists linked to other bombings

      To the embarrassment of the Indian government, it was later revealed that the Ajmer blast was carried out by those seeking to turn India into a Hindu theocracy. Muslim extremists were wrongly blamed.

      Thanks to an honest investigation conducted by some professionally upright police officers, Hindu nationalists involved in Ajmer blast and other explosions targeting Muslims were identified and arrested.

      Nevertheless in the cinema blast in Ludhiana, the scope of investigation was never enlarged to include Hindu nationalists as potential suspects.

      This may partly be because the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is a partner in the Punjab government or partly due to prejudices within the Indian police. They have always seen extremists from minority communities as suspects in such incidents. 

      After all, Punjab witnessed a decade-long Sikh insurgency from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s.

      The fundamental question is whether the police investigation in Ludhiana cinema blast was on the right track or not.

      If the acquittal of three Sikh men in the case is any indication, one thing is definite: the police theory was flawed and weak.

      Police charged four Sikh men in connection with the incident. One died in jail, while the remaining three were acquitted by the court in December 2014. The judge ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

      This is not to suggest that Sikh or Muslim extremists have never been involved in terrorist activities. They have been targeting Hindus one way or the other for years. But in this particular case, the targets were mainly Muslims and the attack occurred on an auspicious day for the Muslim community.

      Why would jihadi extremists target their own compatriots? And why, for that matter, would Sikh separatists go after Muslims when, according to Indian intelligence officials, pro-Khalistani extremists are being patronized by Pakistan?

      For the record, the Sikh group Babbar Khalsa has not only denied its involvement in the incident, but has also condemned it. No group actually claimed responsibility for the attack.

      So why were only Sikh and Muslim groups seen as potential suspects? Why weren't Hindu extremists considered?

      The year 2007 witnessed a series of attacks on Muslims across India. These include the bombing of the Samjhauta Express train that runs between India and Pakistan. The terrorist attack on the train occurred in February of that year, killing dozens of people, mostly Pakistani Muslims.

      When it has been established that Hindu extremists were involved in this attack—and the police theory in Ludhiana blast case has been proven wrong—it's appropriate to re-examine all angles, including the possible involvement of ultra-Hindu nationalists.

      Unfortunately, under the BJP government this may not happen, but pressure must be built to do this.

      Terrorism comes from many sources

      Those who are really bothered about terrorism and religious extremism must shed their selective approach toward the problem.

      It’s a shame that those who've been very vocal against Sikh and Islamic extremism in the name of national unity and security are now silent over Hindu extremism and the legitimacy it gets under the BJP government.

      No outrage has been displayed by these self-styled patriots over reports of Hindu extremists charged with terrorism getting bail and back-door amnesty from the government.

      If the law is the same for everyone, why have police and the intelligence officials not been cognizant of the involvement of Hindu extremists in terrorism?

      Why have their groups never been banned or included on the list of declared terror groups?

      Why for that matter do they never get killed in staged police shootouts, which has been a common occurrence in places where Sikh and Muslim extremists have been involved in armed struggles?