Nothing to do with invite to Atwal during Trudeau visit: India

New Delhi (PTI):The government on Wednesday asserted it had nothing to do with the presence of former Khalistan terrorist Jaspal Atwal at an event in Mumbai or the invitation extended to him to a reception by the Canadian High Commissioner here last week during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s India visit.

The External Affairs Ministry’s strong reaction came after reports in the Canadian media said Trudeau was standing by a senior government official from that country who floated the theory that “rogue” political factions in India orchestrated the embarrassing invitation to Atwal to make his government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism.

Insisting that India had nothing to do with Atwal’s presence at the Mumbai event or the invitation for the reception, External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said any suggestion to the contrary was “baseless and unacceptable”.

“We have 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.

“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,” Kumar said.

The controversy surrounding Atwal erupted last week after he was photographed with Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire at the event in Mumbai.

He was also invited to the dinner reception at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence in Delhi. The invitation was later withdrawn.

A report in Canadian newspaper ‘The Star’ said Trudeau was standing by a senior government official who suggested factions within the Indian government were involved in sabotaging the prime minister’s visit to India.

It said, however, Trudeau accepted the offer of Liberal MP Randeep Sarai to step down as the chair of the Pacific Caucus. Sarai had taken responsibility for the invite to Atwal.

A report in the ‘Vancouver Sun’ said in a background briefing arranged by the Canadian Prime Minister’s Office, a government official last week suggested that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government which wanted to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting close to the Canadian government and to give the impression that the Trudeau regime was not committed to a united India.

Conservatives identified the official as Trudeau’s national security adviser, Daniel Jean, and they pressed Trudeau to say whether he agreed with Jean’s “conspiracy theory”, ‘The Star’ newspaper said in a report.

It reported that during his first “question period” since returning to Canada, opposition MPs grilled Trudeau on Tuesday about invitations issued to Atwal.

Atwal was a Sikh separatist active in the banned International Sikh Youth Federation when he was convicted for attempting to murder Punjab minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in Vancouver in 1986.

(Since then, Atwal has been a vocal critic of Khalistanis and his name has been removed from India’s blacklist.)