The Narendra Modi’s government’s efforts to address grievances of overseas Sikhs moved a step further after Canada-based representatives of the community backed the dialogue but said they want talks to be held outside India.
Modi sought to address the fractious relationship between the Indian state and overseas Sikhs since Operation Bluestar of 1984 during his visit to London in November. His meeting with UK-based Sikh leaders at the time was described as a “breakthrough”.
The London meeting, opposed by some sections of the Sikh community, was followed by the release of some political prisoners, who had served their terms in Indian jails, and the removal of names from a so-called “blacklist” of individuals who allegedly cannot visit India.
London-based Jasdev Singh Rai, who led the talks in November, recently visited Canada and told Hindustan Times that Sikh leaders there supported the dialogue process but want talks to be held outside India after the release of all prisoners and abolition of the blacklist.
National security adviser Ajit Doval was deputed at the London talks to carry forward the dialogue with overseas Sikhs. Key demands included an official apology for Operation Bluestar, supremacy of Darbar Sahib and release of all political prisoners.
Vancouver-based Harjit Singh Atwal, who acknowledges he was a supporter of the Khalistan movement and is one of those blacklisted, said he is willing to grab the olive branch of talks extended by the Indian government.
“There is support in the community for this. Everyone has to sit at the table sooner or later,” Atwal told Hindustan Times after meeting Rai. He said, like many others, he was incensed by the 1984 storming of the Golden Temple: “Everybody was upset but slowly with time, we are moving on with our lives…It is better to resolve this issue.”
Atwal discussed the matter in local gurdwaras just as Jaskaranjit Singh has done in nearly 15 gurdwaras in Greater Toronto Area and neighbouring towns of Ontario.
Singh said: “I think this is a beginning.” But he added that before talks commence, the Indian government has to “ensure goodwill” by releasing all political prisoners and abolishing the blacklist.
He said Rai contacted him after meeting Modi, and added the initiative was “positive”.
Rai said: “There is general apprehension about the sincerity of the Indian state given previous experiences with similar initiatives. Moreover, there is concern about the extremely slow process on the release of political prisoners. Many suspect that blacklists are still operational particularly at the local level of Indian consulates.
“But groups say that dialogue is a parallel process that has long history in Sikh struggles. The Gurus also engaged in dialogue while conflicts continued in the field. The Misls also fought Mughal power but held dialogue when the opportunity arose. So there is a tradition of dialogue within Sikhs.”