Canadian Officials Suspect Mischief in Atwal Invitation Gaffe

MHA has a blacklist of Sikh extremists, from which 150 names were removed in the last few years. Atwal’s was one.

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Politics
3 min read
Canadian Officials Suspect Mischief in Atwal Invitation Gaffe

Jaspal Atwal, a convicted Khalistani terrorist, had his invitation to a dinner in honour of visiting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his India trip rescinded after news reports of his inclusion proliferated. The episode only lent fuel to India’s contention that the Trudeau government is soft on Sikh separatists.

But the Canadian press suspects that the Trudeau government has been had. What’s behind the suspicion?

According to Canadian officials, as reported by Canadian newsmedia company CBC News, the fact that Atwal no longer figures in the Home Ministry's blacklist of Sikh extremists, according to Indian officials themselves, and that the Indian government failed to inform Canada of his removal from the list, suggests the involvement of some rogue political elements in India at play, in order to embarrass the Trudeau government.

“This was not an accident,” National Post, another Canadian media house, quoted a senior security source within the Canadian government – who spoke on condition of anonymity – as saying. He said Atwal has developed a relationship the Indian government since his political views “have evolved” in recent years.

“They no longer see him as the enemy,” said the source, who believes it is convenient for some in India’s government, if not necessarily for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to embarrass Trudeau for being soft on Sikh separatism.
National Post report

Even MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar did not have an explanation for Atwal’s name being dropped from the MHA blacklist of Sikh extremists.

CBC News quoted Kumar as saying, “It is something which I cannot say immediately how that happened," said Shri Raveesh Kumar.

There are different ways of people coming into India. Whether you are an Indian national, whether you hold OCI card, so we are ascertaining details from our mission. We will have to see how this happened and then I can perhaps at a later stage share details on this matter.
Raveesh Kumar, MEA Spokesperson

Nearly 150 names have been removed from the list in the last few years, PTI reported, quoting an Indian official. The previous NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee had dropped 355 names from the blacklist from the initial 489 in 2003. In 2011, under the UPA government, some 170 more names were removed again, NDTV reported.

The central government reviews the blacklist of Sikh extremists from time to time in consultation with the Punjab government and central security forces, taking into account intelligence inputs and activities of the persons concerned, a Home Ministry official said.

It is not clear at what point Jaswal’s name was removed.

And Indian official told PTI that Atwal may have taken advantage of the central government's decision to remove his name from the blacklist to secure an invitation to the dinner hosted by Canadian High Commissioner to India Nadir Patel.

Atwal received his invitation through Surrey Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who issued a statement apologising for the blunder. The Surrey Now-Leader quoted him as saying in a statement:

Let me be clear – this person should never have been invited in the first place. I alone facilitated his request to attend this important event. I should have exercised better judgment, and I take full responsibility for my actions.
Randeep Sarai in his statement

In the aftermath of the controversy surrounding Atwal, Canadian Foreign Minister reiterated Canada's support for a strong and united India, and Trudeau released a statement saying that his government is taking this situation “extremely seriously”.

Atwal was convicted in Canada for the attempted assassination of the then-Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu on Vancouver Island in 1986. Atwal admitted that he was one of four men who ambushed and shot at Sidhu's car. Atwal is reportedly a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a banned terror group in Canada, the UK, the US and India.

(With inputs from PTI)

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