By Tarek Fatah
Is Canada home to Sikh extremists trying to pump fresh air into the dying embers of the so-called Khalistan movement that seeks the breaking up of India to create a separate Sikh country in Punjab?
Are there such anti-India Sikhs in the federal cabinet and the Liberal Party and its Ontario wing?
Mainstream Canadians outside the circus of identity politics could care less about the wholesale buying and selling at ethnic vote banks, but it’s time they should. India is no longer that far-away country of 1985 when Air India 182 was blown out of the sky by Sikh extremists, killing 268 Canadian citizens among the 325 murdered over Ireland.
Today’s India is not just a beacon of democracy in a sea of tyrants that govern much of Asia and Africa, but its economy is booming, as is the trade between our two countries. Fears expressed by New Delhi can no longer be ignored. If they are, it will be our loss in Canada.
It has been reported that the current debate about Canada hosting Sikh extremists erupted when the popular Indian weekly, Outlook — in its Feb.12 edition — ran a cover story, featuring a photo of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wearing traditional orange Sikh handkerchief on his head. The headline on the cover read, “Khalistan-II: Made in Canada.”
Sources in India tell me the Outlook edition story came only after the government of India and Indo-Canadians noticed a sudden spike in anti-India extremist activities at Sikh temples across Canada. In one such step, Indian diplomats were barred from entering any Sikh temple anywhere in Canada.
In his bilateral meeting with Trudeau on the sidelines of the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Switzerland, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Trudeau to curb the rise of pro-Khalistan groups in Canada.
The Outlook report includes a Q and A segment with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who last April refused to meet with Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajan, calling him a “Khalistani sympathizer” — an allegation denied by Sajan.
In a condescending rebuttal, Sajan said: ”Canadians have the right to express (viewpoints), it’s called freedom of speech.”
Hopefully, Trudeau read the gist of the Outlook story and paid heed to Modi’s request in Davos. Ideally, Trudeau should make an emphatic statement in Delhi on behalf of the Canadian state, denouncing anyone or any group that uses Canadian soil to cause harm to the integrity of India.
Of course individual Canadians —extremist Sikhs and their Pakistani-Canadian allies — are free to speak and protest, but the Canadian government and its MPs cannot be seen as being soft in their approach to this menace.
No longer should Trudeau or any Canadian politician send felicitation to events where Sikh extremists parade floats glorifying Sikh militant leaders.
For example, on April 30, Trudeau addressed a parade for ‘Khalsa Day’, which included floats glorifying Sikh militant leaders Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Amreek Singh and former general Shahbeg Singh who were killed in the siege of the Golden Temple and Operation Bluestar in June 1984.
What I have gathered after speaking to many senior level Indian academics and politicians on both sides of the political divide is that India expects nothing short of a complete break between the Liberal Party and the opposition politicians and the Khalistan movement — not just in theory, but in practise, too.
But early indications from the itinerary for Trudeau’s state visit to India on Feb. 17- 23 show the Canadian prime minister will not deviate the script of using his trip to cajole the Sikh vote bank by donning a ceremonial headdress and paying a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
One Canadian Sikh lawyer in Brampton expressed her indignation at how Canadian politicians of all stripes use visits to the Golden Temple as a vote-getting tactic.
“It is demeaning to Canada’s Sikhs that Mr. Trudeau seeks our votes not by arguing the merits of his policy platforms, but by dressing up to mimic Sikh identity and visit our holiest shrine in India,” she added, requesting anonymity.
Perhaps someone in the PMO noticed that Trudeau could massage another vote bank in Canada if he paid a visit to a mosque. So the initial itinerary released in Jan. 22 was changed on Feb. 7 to include a visit to the majestic Jama Mosque in Delhi.
It will be fascinating to see Mr Trudeau lecture the mosque’s clerics about gender-equality after Syed Yahya Bukhari, president of the Jama Masjid United Forum, lashed out recently at a Muslim woman who led a mixed-gender congregation in the southern state of Kerala.
Which begs the question: If Trudeau is so enamoured by Sikhism and Islam, why doesn’t he abandon his Catholic faith and join our ranks? And if he is still a Catholic, why is he not visiting a single one of the many historic Catholic churches of India?
Sanjay Dixit, a senior Indian government officer who has served as an election observer in the Punjab elections of 2014 told me that there is no appetite for an independent Khalistan among the Sikhs of Punjab.
It is also intriguing that the banner men of Khalistan in Canada and the Ontario legislature keep feeding young Sikhs about the immense injustice committed on the Sikhs of Delhi in 1984 when tens of thousands are said to have been killed by roaming mobs. This is done to stir hatred against Hindus in Canada and India.
One last message to Trudeau: India has arrested three would-be assassins who came to India to kill a Canadian journalist working in Delhi. Could you please find out more from the Indian authorities since your High Commissioner to India, Mr Nadir Patel, seems uninterested in the fate of this Canadian?