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Canada politician Jagmeet Singh disavows terrorism amid controversy over ‘pro-Khalistani’ event in 2015

Jagmeet Singh, head of Canada’s New Democratic Party, Singh, was denied a visa by India in 2013 and had not spoken out against the practice of some guruwaras in Canada eulogising Sikh militants as heroes.

world Updated: Mar 15, 2018 12:16 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Canada,Canada NDP,JagmeetSingh

Jagmeet Singh, the head of Canada’s New Democratic Party (NDP), has disavowed all “acts of terrorism” even as he came into the eye of a storm over his appearance at an apparently pro-Khalistan event in San Francisco in 2015.

Singh, who was denied a visa by India in 2013 and had not spoken out against the practice of some guruwaras in Canada eulogising Sikh militants as heroes, had appeared at the San Francisco event on a platform with the backdrop of a large poster of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, considered in India as the person who birthed the violence of the Khalistan movement in the 1980s.

“I condemn all acts of terrorism in every part of the world, regardless of who the perpetrators are or who the victims are. Terrorism can never be seen as a way to advance the cause of any one group. It only leads to suffering, pain and death,” Singh said in a statement.

However, he maintained his stance as a human rights advocate who thought it “important to name human rights atrocities”, and cited the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India in that context.

“I have seen pain and anger and my approach has always been to give space to those feelings in order to work through them, but never to condone acts of violence,” Singh said.

Canadian media reported on the controversial video featuring Singh’s speech at the rally held in San Francisco. Singh was at that time a member of the Ontario provincial parliament.

The daily Globe and Mail reported that the video showed Singh “walking in the pro-sovereignty march behind a truck that displayed signs saying ‘India out of Sikh Homeland’, and ‘1984 Sikh Genocide Independence’. Parade participants carried the same messages on placards as well as others including ‘Sikhs Demand Independence’.”

In that speech, speaking in a mix of English and Punjabi, Singh said “India was built on inequality” before moving on to the theme of a separate homeland, though in a tangential manner.

“If where we are living, we cannot remain freely, there is oppression, where your own government is trying to finish you off, then we have to think whether we can stay there or not,” he said to the crowd.

“If this is not our home, why can’t we build our own? That is our right,” he said, adding it was “not an option to move elsewhere”. He also said, “This is our legal right, to talk about this openly.”

Shinder Purewal, professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, reacted: “A spectre is haunting Jagmeet Singh, the spectre of Khalistan.”

Accusing Singh of being a “Khalistani”, Purewal said, “He used these connections to win nominations for his entry to provincial legislature and become the national leader of NDP in terms of both people and money. However, now he is running away from his past because this affiliation is not setting well with the Canadian people.”

In his statement, Singh added, “Questions regarding the future of India are not for me to decide. I am not a citizen of India or an Indian politician. Self-determination means respecting the views of people in whatever country to choose their own path.”

Soon after he was elected leader of the NDP last October, Singh had spoken of self-determination for Punjab. He doubled down on that position in the statement, as he asserted his “belief in human rights includes a fundamental principle that is written into Article 1 of the UN Charter: respect for equal rights and self-determination”.

Canadian media also reported on a second video from February 2016, in which Singh appeared at an event in Southall in London organised by a group identified as the National Sikh Youth Federation, which advocates for a separate homeland.

While these videos have been available for some time and were posted on Twitter when he won the NDP leadership race, the flurry of coverage of Singh’s presence at events that appear to be pro-Khalistan came as the Canadian media increasingly focuses on the issue of separatists using Canada to organise themselves.

This issue gained prominence during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India last month, when he was apparently snubbed by the Indian government in the initial days of the trip for being seen as soft on radical Sikh groups.

First Published: Mar 15, 2018 11:51 IST