Assuaging the Sikhs in Canada that his government was doing everything possible to heal the wounds of the 1984 riots, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday urged the community to put the past behind them and move forward.
In a meeting with Indo-Canadian parliamentarians before paying his respects to the victims of the Kanishka bombing at the Air India Memorial in Toronto, Manmohan Singh said the riots were a horrible tragedy which should not have happened. The riots had followed the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi on Oct 31, 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards.
The prime minister said he apologised for the tragedy in 2005 and his government also opened the issue of compensation to the victims. But the Indian judicial system has the same problems as the Canadian system, he said, hinting at the delay in justice and acquittal of the accused in the riots.
He said though it is difficult to forget a tragedy, the community should not dwell too much on the past and play its larger role in India.
However, he regretted that some groups were trying to keep the issue alive to further their separatist agenda.
The prime minister's remarks came in the meeting which also included Indo-Canadian MP Sukh Dhaliwal, who recently introduced a motion in the Canadian parliament to declare the 1984 riots a "genocide".
Urging the Indian prime minister to address the issue of the 1984 riots, former Canadian health minister Ujjal Dosanj warned that many groups were using the issue to further their Khalistani agenda. "Justice for the riots victims is far from their mind," Dosanjh said.
Hailing the Indian government's move to give voting rights to non-resident Indians India, Dosanjh however, cautioned Singh against opening booths in Canada as this would further divide the Indian community.
Canadian Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai, who is currently the highest ranking Indo-Canadian in the government, told Manmohan Singh that the Canadian prime minister was committed to working with India to marginalise separatist elements.
"These groups are of no consequence in the Indo-Canadian community," Obhrai assured Manmohan Singh.
Ontario province minister Harinder Takhar, who as chair of Canadian Parliamentarians of Indian Origin took the initiative to organise the meeting with Manmohan Singh, termed it "historic and very positive for India and Canada."
Before leaving for India, the prime minister also paid his respects to the Kanishka victims at the Air India Memorial in Toronto. He was accompanied by Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to the memorial.