In light of recent developments, the Canadian government should re-examine the worst tragedy in the history of aviation terrorism before 9/11.
It would be prudent to order a thorough probe focusing on the role played by Indian agents in the lead-up to two 1985 Air India bombings, considering the growing cozy relations between a former suspect and the Indian establishment.
A mid-air bombing of Air India flight 182 above the Irish Sea killed 329 people. In addition, two baggage handlers died at Narita Airport due to another bomb placed in a stereo tuner in the luggage.
The suitcase bombs were checked in at Vancouver International Airport. The conspiracy hatched on B.C. soil was blamed on Sikh separatists seeking revenge from the Indian government.
This came after the ruling party had engineered anti-Sikh pogroms in 1984 following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.
Earlier that year in June, Gandhi ordered the military invasion of the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of Sikhs.
The ill-fated army operation was launched to deal with a handful of militants who were accused of stockpiling arms inside the place of worship.
The only person convicted in connection with the Air India bombings is Inderjit Singh Reyat. Two men, including Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik, were acquitted in B.C. Supreme Court in 2005 due to insufficient evidence.
Justice Ian Bruce Josephson declared that his not-guilty verdict for Malik wasn’t a pronouncement of his innocence. Josephson later declined to compensate Malik for his legal bills.
Yet the Indian government granted Malik a visa to travel back to the country of his birth in 2019. But the story did not end there. His brother admitted during an interview with a Punjabi TV channel that they had met Samant Goel, the head of India’s infamous spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).
This raised an alarm within the Canadian Sikh community. After all, a section of the Sikh population in Canada continues to believe that the Air India bombings were part of an Indian conspiracy to malign and discredit Sikh political activists in Canada.
The cordial meeting between the Maliks and Goel reinforced those conspiracy theories. More recently, Malik wrote a letter to India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, praising him for his initiatives on long-pending Sikh demands.
Ties between Malik and others named in the Air India case and the Indian government should be looked into. Since India has no reason to take interest in any such inquiry, the Canadian government must initiate this without losing much time.
Already, there is information available in the public domain that strengthens the possibility of R&AW being engaged with those involved in the plot. At least two books by Canadian journalists, Soft Target: The Real Story Behind the Air India Disaster (by Zuhair Kashmeri and Brian McAndrew) and Margin of Terror: A Reporter's Twenty-Year Odyssey Covering the Tragedies of the Air India Bombing (by Salim Jiwa), raised this possibility.
Both books reveal how potential suspects, including alleged mastermind Talwinder Singh Parmar, had complicated and unexplained connections both direct and subtle with Indian agents. Parmar died under mysterious circumstances in 1992 in the custody of Indian police.
The events that led to the bombings and reasons behind the botched investigation have also remained fishy.
Here are just a few of the concerns: overlooking serious threats prior to the incident; last-minute cancellations of travel plans by several passengers; the reluctance of Indian authorities to cancel Air India flights in the first place, especially in light of threats as well as calls for an Air India boycott by Sikh groups; the destruction of surveillance tapes; and, of course, the killing of Parmar at the hands of the Punjab police.
Enough light has been shed on the Sikh militants and yet nothing conclusive has been achieved, so why not look more specifically into the role of Indian agents and their moles in the Sikh community to settle this issue once and for all?
Let’s not fool ourselves by assuming that India is a great peaceful nation. Its intelligence network is capable of doing anything. A quick research of R&AW on the internet will reveal how far It goes to protect the interests of the ruling elite.
If a governing party could allow its goons and police to kill innocent Sikhs in 1984 to polarize the Hindu majority in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s murder, would it also have been capable of using 329 lives as sacrificial lambs to malign a minority community?
Only a truly independent probe could answer that question.
We have already seen how India has aggressively tried to give a yearlong farmers’ protest a bad name by blaming Canada-based Sikhs and anti-India separatists as instigators, whereas in reality it was an organic struggle.
The situation in 1985 had many parallels. R&AW had a strong motivation to weaken some Sikhs’ struggle in Canada for a separate homeland, as well as the community’s campaign for justice for the victims of 1984.
If Ottawa really cares for those who died in the Air India bombings and considers it as a Canadian tragedy, it must take some pains to get to the truth.