THE KHALISTANI ANGLE to the relations between India and Canada has hogged the news headlines all through the past week. Finally on Wednesday there was some thaw and the Panjab Chief Minister met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and team including Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Industries Minister Amarjit Sohi, both earlier accused of being Khalistan sympathisers. Today the Canadian PM will meet the Indian PM and other official level talks will take place.
Yet, a spin played out yesterday over the invitation extended by the Canadian PM and High Commission to a controversial individual Jaspal Atwal on most likely the recommendation by Canadian Parliamentarian Randeep Sarai. Pictures of Atwal with Justin Trudeau, Sophie Trudeau, Amarjit Sohi, MP Sonia Sidhu and others are flashing in media. Since then the dinner invite has been rescinded but it has caused embarrassment to both the Canadian and the Indian side. At the heart of the controversy are questions: who is Atwal and if he is in the wrong how did he manage not only an invite to the dinner but also a Visa to India.
Atwal is a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation – banned by British, Indian, Canadian and American terrorism legislation. In 1986 he was arrested, convicted, sentenced, over the attempt to murder of Indian Panjab Akali Minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu, on Vancouver Island, Canada. During the parole hearing in 1992 he confessed he was the shooter. He was subsequently released on parole.
My questions are for all grandstanding liberals who in the last few days have sought to impose the fear of Khalistan on the Sikh community in Panjab, in India and in the Diaspora. Those who have pushed Sikhs in a corner and forced them to explain themselves.
However, Atwal has been flirting with the law. In 2002 he was a suspect in a drive-by shooting at his brother’s house, at which point, his parole was revoked. As a result the Indian Government revoked his visitor’s visa to India. In 2005 he triggers a police probe, when claiming then Tory MP Gurmant Grewal had asked him to write a donation out to Mr. Grewal’s personal account. In 2006 he wishes to travel to India. He does not contact his own MP in Fleetwood-Port Kells, Nina Grewal, because she is the wife of Gurmant Grewal against whom he had initiated probe. Instead out of all the MPs he approaches a particular one – Ujjal Dosanjh.
Ujjal Dosanjh, is former Provincial Premier of British Columbia, Attorney general and Federal Health Minister. Over the last few years we know him for calling out the growing influence of Khalistan in Canadian politics and as a major voice against Hindutva in India. I read him carefully and I guess many who seek a world where development concerns override religious and identity politics would read him. He is truly a liberal, a darling of liberal press.
A long time back, in 1985, when Dosanjh was running for Premiership he was attacked and severely beaten with a torn pipe spiked with sharpened bolts. Jaspal Atwal was considered responsible for the attack. He was arrested but let go for lack of evidence. Twenty years later Atwal approaches the same Dosanjh for the Visa to India. I understand that many people approach public figures, many get photographed with them. Dosanjh is no way responsible for Atwal approaching him. Dosanjh’s responsibility starts with how he responds to the approach.
Dosanjh felt that his ability to serve Atwal fairly was impaired by their history. Dosanjh referred Atwal to fellow Liberal MP Don Bell. No one, including Dosanjh, makes Bell aware of the details of Atwal’s background. In July 2006, Bell called the Indian consulate in Vancouver in an attempt to assist Atwal to obtain a new visitor’s Visa. It was rejected.
My friend Kanwaldeep Singh asked Dosanjh a pointed question on twitter. Here is Ujjal’s reply.
Replying to @ujjaldosanjh
Mr. Dosanjh, I heard in a radio program 'Sathth' on KRPI 1550 AM today that it was you who recommended Federals to reach out to Indian government for Mr. Atwal to get an Indian Visa for him. What is your say?
He approached me for help over 10 years ago. I couldn't help him in an unbiased manner and referred to another MP colleague. India denied him the visa. The rest is history.
It was mentioned 'in that radio show' that you "recommended" your federal colleague, and he met the person you "referred to as" as been kind of one recommended by you (if I am correct in translation of what I inferred from that broadcast).
Now, my questions to Dosanjh, who over last night, is all over media making comments on Atwal:
a) Sir, why didn’t you brief Mr Bell in 2006?
b) Is your activism, political stance good for columns and commentary or does it play a role in your personal conduct - who you hob-nob with, whom you promote?
c) It is a bit rich that you now stand as an accuser firing away at Trudeau government when you were earlier complicit. Any real explanations?
Please note, my questions are not only to Mr Ujjal Dosanjh. Perhaps he has a big heart and goes out of his way by staying silent about his probable ex-attacker. My questions are for all grandstanding liberals who in the last few days have sought to impose the fear of Khalistan on the Sikh community in Panjab, in India and in the Diaspora. Those who have pushed Sikhs in a corner and forced them to explain themselves. Liberals, your right hand needs to know what your left hand does. If it doesn’t then it is hypocrisy.
A related aside:
Atwal has been active in the Liberal Party of Canada as a strong Surrey supporter and organizer. In 2011 he worked for Christy Clark leadership bid, demonstrating skills in organizing volunteers, gathering huge swaths of memberships and facilitating fluid, key donations. At the same time he continues to flirt with the law. In 2011, Atwal lost a USD 22,000 decision against the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia in regards to a car fraud ring. Amid these allegations of fraud, he stirred a controversy the following year by showing up to Budget Day in Victoria.
We know politics is a murky game. We know wheeling dealings happen. We know big funds and shady reputations are part of the making of today’s politics. Just don’t flatten it for us by creating easy targets. Look into your own conduct before you seek brownie points through accusations.
Amandeep Sandhu is working on a non-fiction book on Panjab.
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