Jaspal Atwal controversy continues to plague India-Canada ties as New Delhi rejects Justin Trudeau's conspiracy theory

A week after Jaspal Atwal, a Canadian Sikh with suspected links to Khalistani terrorists, received an invitation to attend an event hosted by the Canadian embassy in Mumbai, the issue continues to impact ties between India and Canada.

Though Trudeau's team rescinded the invitation following widespread outrage, things seem to have fallen back a little since. "Obviously, we take this extremely seriously. He should never have received an invitation. As soon as we received the information we rescinded it. A Member of Parliament had included this individual," ANI quoted Trudeau as saying.

He also accepted the resignation of Randeep Sarai, a Liberal MP who took responsibility for inviting Atwal to India. Sarai, one of 14 MPs on Trudeau's entourage for the eight-day visit to India, was also head of the Pacific Caucus.

Jaspal Atwal with Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie at an event in Mumbai. Courtesy: News18

Jaspal Atwal with Justin Trudeau's wife Sophie at an event in Mumbai. Courtesy: News18

However, upon returning to Canada, Trudeau is singing a different tune. As reported by Hindustan Times, the country's National Security Advisor Daniel Jean first advocated a conspiracy theory that suggested the invitation accorded to Atwal was actually an attempt by "rogue elements" in the Indian establishment to embarrass Trudeau on the issue of Sikh separatist activity on Canadian soil.

And when Conservative MPs from the Opposition quizzed Trudeau further about these accusations, he seemed to be in agreement. "When one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it's because they know it to be true," Trudeau said.

India reacted furiously to the charges and to Trudeau's acceptance of them. Foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said New Delhi had "seen the recent exchange in the Parliament of Canada regarding two invitations issued to Jaspal Atwal by the Canadian high commissioner, for functions hosted in honour of the Canadian Prime Minister in India". As reported by Livemint, he denied India having anything to do with Atwal's presence.

"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," Kumar said.

Who is Jaspal Atwal?

So, who is the man at the centre of this controversy, and why are the two countries so keen on blaming each other for the fiasco?

Atwal, as reported by CBC News, is a former member of the terrorist organisation International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) founded by Amrik Singh, the nephew of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the Sikh militant who advocated for a separate State of 'Khalistan'.

According to PTI, Atwal was convicted for attempting to kill a Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in Vancouver in 1986. Sidhu was in Canada to attend his nephew's wedding. He survived after being shot five times, but was assassinated in 1991 by Sikh terrorists in Punjab's Moga.

Atwal, along with three others, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, according to India Today. The judge called it "an act of terrorism" while pronouncing the verdict, according to the report. However according to Toronto Sun, none of the convicts served the jail term because the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) was found to have collected evidence through an improperly obtained warrant.

Atwal was also accused of beating Ujjal Dosanjh, the former leader of British Columbia before the 1986 attack, reported Vancouver Sun. However, he was acquitted.

Atwal later moved to Surrey, a town in British Columbia where he is associated with Media Wave Communications, which runs a Surrey-based online radio station, ABP News reported.

In 2012, Atwal was invited for budget day festivals in British Columbia, causing a huge uproar which led to the resignation of a senior official from a key position in the Liberal Party for the "goof up", National Post reported.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 16:29 PM

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