NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has drawn the Indian government’s ire for comments aimed at Canada’s Sikh community that New Delhi says distort the facts behind an infamous 1984 military raid.
Earlier this month, Mr. Mulcair released a statement commemorating the 28th anniversary of what he called the “invasion” of the Golden Temple, a traumatic event in Indian history that took place at a holy Sikh shrine.
“The tragic events that unfolded over the course of those sweltering days in June, and the subsequent killings in November, have deeply hurt the Sikh community, both in India and abroad,” Mr. Mulcair said June 4 in a release entitled “Remembering 1984.”
“When innocent lives are lost with no accountability or explanation by the government, we have an obligation, as one democratic nation to another, to ask why and seek honest answers on behalf of our citizens.”
Nearly 30 years ago this month, Indian troops stormed the Golden Temple on prime minister Indira Gandhi’s order to dislodge armed Sikh extremists. New Delhi accused them of directing a violent campaign for more autonomy in Punjab province.
The result was a bloodbath. Ms. Gandhi was assassinated in retaliation more than four months later by Sikh bodyguards. That triggered a wave of anti-Sikh riots in November, 1984, which left thousands of Sikhs dead.
Upset by Mr. Mulcair’s statement, India’s High Commissioner to Canada Shashishekhar Gavai wrote the NDP Leader to complain, copying members of the Conservative government caucus, including Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird.
Both the NDP and Conservative vie for the political support of Indo-Canadians across Canada, including in British Columbia.
Mr. Gavai wrote in his June 7 letter that the Sikh militants in the temple were “terrorists” and accused Mr. Mulcair of glossing over this.
“I was disappointed that the [NDP] statement was one-sided, did not represent facts and could, therefore, be considered as misleading,” the high commissioner wrote in the letter that was obtained by The Globe and Mail.
“What is referred to as an ‘invasion’ of the Golden Temple was actually an operation by Indian security forces to neutralize terrorists who had taken control of the Temple complex and who were responsible for the cold blooded killings of hundreds of innocents including Sikhs,” Mr. Gavai wrote.
“Surely acting against terrorists is the legitimate duty of any democracy.”
The high commissioner reminded Mr. Mulcair of the 1985 bombing of Air India Flight 182 which claimed the lives of 280 Canadians.
Crown prosecutors in Canada have long contended that British Columbia-based Sikhs conceived the plot to take revenge against government-owned Air India after the storming of the Golden Temple.
“It would be expected that this despicable act has informed political opinion in Canada sufficiently to be sensitive to the threat that democratic countries like India have faced, and continue to face from the scourge of terrorism,” Mr. Gavai wrote.
He condemned the anti-Sikh riots that followed Ms. Gandhi’s death as “a horrific manifestation of mob violence,” but contended that this was “part of a chain of tragic events including extremism in Punjab and the brutal assassination of the democratically elected prime minister of India, planned and executed by Sikh extremists.”
A spokesman for Mr. Mulcair could not immediately respond to questions Thursday about the high commission’s letter or the NDP Leader’s June 4 statement.