Gurpreet Singh: On anniversary of Air India bombing, Modi government signals its double standard on terrorism

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      Today marks 35 years since the Air India bombings left 331 people dead on June, 23 1985.

      The killing of two baggage handlers at Tokyo's Narita Airport and 329 passengers and crew onboard a plane over the Irish Sea marked the worst incident of aviation terrorism before 9/11. 

      Widely blamed on Sikh separatists in Canada seeking revenge for the repression of Sikhs in India in 1984, the investigation and trial of the case has culminated in a lone conviction of the bomb maker, Inderjit Singh Reyat, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter.

      Two other suspects, Greater Vancouver Sikh millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted in B.C. Supreme Court in 2005 for lack of evidence.

      Bagri was associated with the now-banned Babbar Khalsa, a Sikh extremist group whose leader, the late Talwinder Singh Parmar, was said to have been the mastermind of the conspiracy. He died at the hands of Indian police in 1992 under mysterious circumstances. Other potential suspects were never charged.

      Ajay Basaria, the current Indian high commissioner issued brief statement on social media condemning the incident.

      India's high commissioner to Canada, Ajay Bisaria, condemns the bombing of Air India Flight 182 and says everyone must dedicate themselves to eliminating terrorism.

      Due to-COVID 19, most commemorative events are planned online.

      Otherwise, Indian officials do not miss an opportunity to personally attend memorial services across Canada.

      India has been consistently raising this issue with Canada for years. In 2015, the prime minister, Narendra Modi, visited the Air India memorial site in Ontario during his official tour of Canada.

      Back when Malik and Bagri were acquitted, the Indian government expressed its outrage.  

      However, recent developments suggest that India has lost any moral right to talk about Air India in particular and terrorism in general.

      Firstly, Indian government gave a visa to Malik to visit his birthplace late last year. This is despite the fact that India had been accusing him of being a financier of the conspirators, even though he was never convicted.

      At the time, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson emphasized that his acquittal “was not a declaration of innocence” while rejecting his claim for compensation for losses incurred by him on his legal defence.

      Secondly, Indian agents continue to attack certain Sikh temples that glorify Parmar as a martyr for their cause. Canadian politicians who often visit these temples are frequently blasted by pro-India lobby groups.

      If Malik’s acquittal is a yardstick for getting Indian visa, then there is no point going after the supporters of Parmar as he never got fair trial to prove his innocence. Rather, he was killed in an extra-judicial manner.

      Narendra Modi appointed Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur (above) to the parliamentary defence committee last year, even though she's charged in connection with a 2008 terrorist incident.

      Accused terrorist elected on Modi slate

      Considering what India is going through under the right-wing Hindu nationalist government led by Modi, what right does India really have to talk tough on terrorism? 

      Modi's party nominated a controversial female Hindu ascetic to run for office in last year’s general election. At the time, Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur was facing charges in connection with a 2008 bombing targeted at the Muslim community.

      Ten people died and 82 more were injured. Thakur was cooling her heels in jail before being granted bail in 2017 and running for parliament in 2019. Modi subsequently appointed her to the parliamentary defence committee

      If this was not enough, the BJP government helped in the acquittal of Swami Aseemanand, another Hindu ascetic, who was linked to the 2007 rail bombing that left close to 70 people dead. Most victims were Pakistani Muslims. His proximity to Modi is well documented.

      Notably, these two individuals did not meet the same fate as Parmar. Apparently, India treats extremists belonging to the Hindu majority differently. 

      Even otherwise, terrorist attacks on Muslims and other religious minorities have grown in India ever since Modi came to power in 2014. All this indicates that India is blatantly patronizing terrorism, which takes away its legitimacy to question other countries on this issue.

      Ripudaman Singh Malik (left) appeared on Chardikla Time TV during his 2019 visit to India.
      Chardikla Time TV screen shot

      BJP and Congress turn blind eye to terrorism

      To put things in perspective, the Indian government’s decision to give a visa to Malik might have to do something with shrewd politics. It enables Modi to create a wedge between Muslims and Sikhs in places like Canada, where the two communities have come together to challenge ultra-Hindu nationalism.

      Modi’s calculation might be based on the fact that Sikhs were subjected to state violence in India under previous the Congress government.

      In spite of its tall claims of being secular, Congress leaders engineered a Sikh massacre in 1984 following the murder of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

      Modi's party repeated that against Muslims in 2002 when he was the chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. It witnessed a similar pogrom after a train carrying Hindu pilgrims caught fire, killing more than 50 people.

      Modi blamed that incident on Muslims, even a commission of inquiry established that it was a pure accident.

      Instead of shedding crocodile tears for the Air India victims and playing with their emotions, the Indian state needs to look hard at itself in the mirror.

      Blaming others all the time isn’t helpful. It’s time for India to change its ways and treat its minorities humanely.

      It should deal with terrorists of all shades alike and stop being selective. 

      The Air India Memorial in Vancouver's Stanley Park includes the names of all passengers and crew onboard the doomed 1985 flight that left Montreal on its way to London, England.
      Charlie Smith
      Gurpreet Singh is a cofounder of Radical Desi and Indians Abroad for Pluralist India. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.