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Justin Trudeau supports ‘rogue hand’ theory, angers India

Jaspal Atwal, photographed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife at an event in Mumbai on February 20, and three other men were convicted of the attempted murder for the 1986 attack on Akali Dal leader and minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island.

world Updated: Mar 01, 2018 00:07 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
Justin Trudeau,Canadian PM,Khalistani terrorist
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India was mired in controversy, with experts saying he was snubbed by the Indian government.(Reuters)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by a senior national security official’s startling accusation that a convicted Khalistani terrorist’s presence in India during his recent visit was an attempt by “rogue” elements in the Indian establishment to embarrass him on the issue of Sikh separatist activity on Canadian soil.

As the debacle that was Trudeau’s visit to India captivated the Canadian political class, opposition Conservatives raised the issue in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament. They asked whether Trudeau agreed with the “conspiracy theory” advanced by the official, identified by Canadian media as National Security Advisor Daniel Jean.

Responding to the Opposition attack, Trudeau said, “When one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it’s because they know it to be true.”

Hours after Trudeau’s remarks, the external affairs ministry said any suggestion that the Indian government had anything to do with Atwal’s presence at two official events in Mumbai and New Delhi was “baseless and unacceptable”.

Trudeau’s comment also brought a furious retort from Conservative MP and leader of Opposition, Andrew Scheer, who tweeted: “Justin Trudeau just made an incredibly serious charge against the Indian government – which has real implications for Canada’s foreign relations and national security. He needs to provide proof of this immediately.”

Jean, during a news conference in New Delhi last Thursday, told the Canadian media it was “not an accident” that Jaspal Atwal was present in India and had been removed from a “blacklist” by the Indian government.

Atwal and three men were convicted of attempted murder for a 1986 attack on Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu while he was visiting relatives in Canada.

Sidhu, then a minister of state in the Punjab government, was injured in the attack. He was later killed by Sikh militants in Punjab in 1991.

Trudeau faced embarrassment when it emerged that Atwal had attended an official event in Mumbai, where he was photographed with the Canadian prime minister’s wife, and was invited to an official dinner reception hosted by Canada’s envoy in New Delhi. The invitation was later rescinded.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said India had noted the exchange in the Canadian Parliament regarding the invitations issued to Atwal to two official events.

“Let me categorically state that the government of India, including the security agencies, had nothing to do with the presence of Jaspal Atwal at the event hosted by the Canadian high commissioner in Mumbai or the invitation issued to him for the Canadian high commissioner’s reception in New Delhi. Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and unacceptable,” he said.

Canada’s Opposition MPs have been less than satisfied with the responses they received from the government. Conservative MP Candice Bergen asked, “Before our Prime Minister destroys our relationship with our ally, the government and country of India, will he please tell this House what proof he has of that allegation?”

Without refuting the allegation against the Indian government, Canada’s public safety minister Ralph Goodale fired back that “the accusations and insinuations coming from the opposition are simply and utterly false”.

New Democratic Party MP Charlie Angus was vehement: “They’ve doubled down using a senior civil servant and now the prime minister to spread a conspiracy theory that somehow the Indian government is trying to make the Liberals look bad.”

Angus went on, as quoted by the Canadian media, “What is the prime minister thinking, putting the interests of the Liberal machine ahead of national security, international relations and Canada’s reputation?”

Liberal Party MP Randeep Sarai has already owned responsibility for asking Atwal to be included in the list of guests for the dinner reception at the Canadian high commissioner’s residence in New Delhi, which was attended by Trudeau.

Atwal was also charged but not found guilty of a murderous assault on British Columbia leader Ujjal Dosanjh. In recent years, he has softened his stance towards India and has often opposed Khalistan, leading to his removal from the Indian government’s “blacklist”. He was issued a visa by the Indian consulate in Vancouver.

Canada’s NSA Daniel Jean, meanwhile, worked on the pathbreaking “Framework for Cooperation between India and Canada on Countering Terrorism and Violent Extremism” with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval. The document was released after the bilateral dialogue between the two prime ministers in New Delhi on Friday.

First Published: Feb 28, 2018 14:04 IST