New NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been on the job for less than a month and is already facing questions about old controversies.
Singh was only a child in June 1985 when more than 300 people – including 280 Canadians – were killed in the bombing of an Air India plane.
It was suspected the bombing was perpetrated in retaliation for anti-Sikh incidents that occurred in and around 1984 in India.
In June 1984, then Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi, ordered the Indian military to attack the holiest Sikh shrine, The Golden Temple in Amritsar, to flush out Sikh militants.
As a result of that, two of her Sikh bodyguards killed Gandhi on her way to the office from home in New Delhi.
Thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered across India in revenge.
Rajiv Gandhi, Indira’s son and successor as prime minister, shrugged at the anti-Sikh savagery.
“When a big tree falls, the earth trembles.”
Then came the Air India bombing.
Police suspected Talwindar Singh Parmar of Burnaby, B.C., – later killed by security forces in India – was the mastermind behind the bombings, although no charges were proven against him in any court of law in any jurisdiction.
The only person convicted in the bombing was Inderjit Singh Reyat, also from Vancouver, who made the bombs that were used in blowing up Air India flight 182 and also the one that killed two baggage handlers at the Narita Airport in Japan.
Reyat spent almost eight years in jail before being released to a halfway house.
Jagmeet Singh is a practising Sikh and was born in Canada. He was elected MPP from Ontario and was the first Sikh politician to raise the issue of the 1984 Sikh genocide in the Ontario legislature.
It was the first time in history that the events of 1984 were being termed as the genocide of the Sikhs in India.
Singh also publicly raised the issue of Sikh political prisoners languishing in the Indian jails for decades.
This Singh, a young Sikh politician, is a sore spot for the Indian authorities because he raises the issues that internationally embarrass them. Singh was denied visa by the Indian government.
Now, after winning the NDP leadership race in the first ballot and creating another history, Singh has been quizzed regularly about all those tragedies that took place when he was barely five-years-old.
When Singh is asked whether he denounces terrorism or not, his reply is that he is against all forms of terrorism and violence – state-sponsored or otherwise.
His critics demand that Singh should condemn the Sikhs who eulogize Parmar during annual Sikh parades in Canada.
It all started again when, after Singh’s leadership victory, CBC correspondent, Terry Milewski, started pestering him with questions about Sikh terrorism of the `80s and `90s, insisting that he condemn the display of Parmar’s posters and Sikhs who consider him a martyr.
Singh’s answer was that he condemns violence and terrorism in all its forms regardless of who perpetrates them and anyone held responsible needs to be denounced.
He later added, “There’s still a lot of questions that are unanswered.”
Based on his interview with Singh, Milewski tweeted that the new NDP leader Jagmeet Singh declined to condemn people who call the slain Sikh terrorist, Parmar, a martyr.
Many pro-India political commentators pressed Singh to clarify his stance on the matter and blamed him for not being straightforward. They claimed Singh was deliberately trying to create a “grey-area” when it came to denouncing Parmar.
It doesn’t end there for Singh, the supporters of the right-wing Bhartiya Janta Party (the ruling party in India) around the world are trolling him on social media.
It’s unfair to keep dragging Singh into the Air India story. The controversy over Parmar and other Sikhs who were killed by the Indian government but are considered martyrs by the Sikhs is an attempt by the Indian government to stop him from talking about the Sikh genocide.
Those who seek condemnation from Singh on Parmar’s posters must also not forget that no justice has been delivered to the families of the Sikhs who were killed in the state-sponsored violence.
The Sikhs are still awaiting justice for the 1984 genocide. We are neither comparing tragedies nor trying to justify one with the other.
The mainstream Canadian media are, in effect, asking Singh to prove his Canadianness, to prove that he’s a better politician than others. It’s not enough for politicians of colour to be as good as their white counterparts, they have to go the extra mile.
How many white politicians are asked, after all, to denounce white supremacists? How many white politicians of Irish background have been asked to denounce Provisional Irish Republican Army? How many white skinned politicians of Italian descent have been asked to denounce the Red Brigade?
One can only hope that the Canadian media treat Sikhs as part of the mainstream where they don’t always have to show their character certificates.
At the end of the day, he doesn’t only represent the Sikhs or the South Asian community but all Canadians. Rather than dragging him into unnecessary controversies, let’s give Singh a fair and honest chance to focus on his agenda for all Canadians.