A major controversy hit Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ongoing visit to India on Thursday when it emerged that the Canadian mission in New Delhi had invited a ‘Khalistani’ terrorist for a dinner being hosted by it in honour of the visiting dignitary.
The Canadian authorities this morning swung into action and withdrew the invitation to Indo-Canadian Jaspal Atwal. “The High Commission has rescinded Atwal’s invitation. We do not comment on matters relating to the PM’s security,’’ the Canadian mission said. This happened two days after Atwal was photographed with the visiting leader’s wife Sophie at an event in Mumbai.
Asked how India viewed the development, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar sought to play down the controversy lest it casts a shadow on the Canadian leader’s visit.
Asked if Canada had offered an apology to India, he said the Canadian side had already pointed out that the invitation to Atwal was an ‘oversight’ and it had now been withdrawn. “We need to move on,’’ he added.
On how Atwal had been issued visa by the Indian authorities, the spokesperson said New Delhi was trying to ascertain full facts from its High Commission in Ottawa. He confirmed that there were cases against Atwal for which he has already spent time in prison. “I will have to check if cases are still pending against him,’’ he added.
Atwal and three other men were convicted of attempted murder for the 1986 attack on Akali Dal leader Malkiat Singh Sidhu, who was visiting relatives in Vancouver Island at the time.
Sidhu, who was then a minister of state in the Punjab government, was injured in the attack and survived. He was later killed by Sikh militants in Punjab in 1991.
Atwal is a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), one of the key groups in the movement to establish Khalistan or an independent Sikh homeland, which was banned by Canada and designated a terror organisation in 2003.
Atwal was also accused of a murderous attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, an Indo-Canadian politician in British Columbia and a vocal critic of the Khalistan movement, in February 1985.
Atwal was quoted as saying in the Canadian media that he had no plan to attend the dinner tonight since he was in Mumbai. He said he had travelled to India on his own on 11 February and was not part of any official delegation.
The Canadian PM’s visit, which is already attracting a lot of publicity for all the wrong reasons because of the Trudeau government’s soft policy on pro-Khalistan elements, is scheduled to conclude on Saturday after the Canadian leader’s formal talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.