Khalistan Shadow Over Trudeau Visit: Who is Jaspal Singh Atwal?
How did Jaspal Singh Atwal get a visa for India?
NEW DELHI: The one question India’s strategic establishment seems to asking without a satisfactory answer is: Why has the Canadian Prime Minister made this visit to India? More so when his official engagements with the Prime Minister and Ministry of External Affairs is little more than half a day, and the only other political leader of any consequence he met, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, remained reluctant to meet him till the very end.
Instead Trudeau, given what seem as almost hostile relations between his government and New Delhi, has spent his time decrying the separatist movement, and assuring Singh and others that his government was not supporting the Khalistani’s and stood for a united India. Judging from the lukewarm response, and the stories being planted in the media, Trudeau is certainly not on the list of global ‘favourites’ and seems to have embarked on this visit with a huge entourage without the necessary homework between the two sides.
The Indian government has not stretched out to welcome the visiting dignitary and his family, and kept the protocol at the very minimum. And matters have certainly not been helped by the fact that a former Khalistan leader Jaspal Singh Atwal has surfaced around official Canadian High Commission events in India.
An activist of the since banned International Sikh Federation led by Amrik Singh and Harwinder Singh Sindhu during the Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale days, Atwal was present at a function in Mumbai where he was photographed with the Canadian PM’s wife. He was also on the invitees list for an official dinner at the Canadian High Commission in Delhi, being hosted by the High Commissioner. This was withdrawn after the news was leaked.
The question of course is how did Atwal get a visa to come to India? How did he get below the blacklist radar? Earlier attempt by him in 2012 did not succeed? So how did he get through now? There is no response to this. The Canadians have denied that he was part of the Prime Minister’s delegation to India.
Atwal seems to have slipped from even intelligence memory with not many able to recall details about him. He has served 20 years for the attempted murder of a Punjab minister Malikat Singh Sidhu who was visiting Vancouver in 1986. Atwal with two others shot at him, Sidhu was injured but survived. He was killed by Khalistan militants in Moga, Punjab five years later in 1991 in an entirely separate incident. Atwal completed his jail sentence and since then has been in Canada with known political links in the country.
Minister Sidhu in 1986---this was after Operation Bluestar when the key Khalistan leaders had been killed or arrested---visited Canada ostensibly to attend a relatives wedding. Reports suggest that his car was stopped by another vehicle that came in front. The occupants smashed Sidhu’s car and fired at him. The four caught at a police roadblock were Jasbir Singh Atwal, Jaspal Singh Atwal, Armajit Singh Dhindsa and Sukhdial Singh Gill. They were convicted in 1987.
Interestingly, Atwal seems to have acquired a flair for appearing where he is not really invited. In 2012 he created a stir in Canada when he appeared at the Canadian legislature for the budget session. He had of course served his time by then, but even so this created a controversy and then British Columbia Premier Christy Clark had to apologise for the former Khalistan activists presence in the legislature. It was reported at the time that a Liberal official Tariq Ghuman had to resign because of this slip up. And Clark claimed that she had no idea about Atwal’s background, although he had supported her race and was amongst the India-Canadian supporters to welcome her in Surrey in 2011.
In almost the same fashion, the Trudeau establishment is denying connections with him. Atwal appeared at the Mumbai function now, with no one owning responsibility. And got an invite for the official dinner hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel that has since been rescinded.
Again Atwal managed to get a visa to India, despite being on a black list earlier. The questions that the Indian Foreign Office needs to answer are: how did Atwal get the visa ?
Of course, there are no two views that Atwal has done his time for the attack on the Minister. And there is little evidence in the public domain to suggest now that he is involved in the separatist movement, if indeed there is such a movement at all. He is not on any wanted list it is learnt, and is seen to be a supporter of the Akali Dal now.
CM Amarinder Singh has been accusing current Ministers in the Canadian government of supporting the Khalistan movement, and at his meeting with Trudeau handed over a list of 10 or 11 such persons. Trudeau did attend functions with Khalistan flags and Bhindranwale photographs in Canada recently. Trudeau attended Khasla Day where Sikh militant leaders were allegedly glorified.
In Punjab too similar events are being held with more frequency now. Bhindrawale paraphernalia is openly available around the Golden Temple in Amritsar as well, with Khalistan flags seen at many events in the state. The government has not taken any action on this, preferring to look the other way.
At the end of the day it is not clear what Canada, or for that matter India, has achieved through this visit. India-Canada relations seem to be certainly not a shade better, perhaps worse, than a week ago when Trudeau embarked on the journey to New Delhi.