Thirty five years ago, on this very day, the then deadliest aviation oriented terrorist attack occurred in the world. It would remain the deadliest of its kind until the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It was the bombing of Air India Flight 182 Kanishka by Khalistani terrorists which led to the death of 329 people, that is, everyone aboard the flight.
The events that followed marked one of the gravest injustices in modern history. Despite the most expensive trial in Canadian history, only one person was convicted for the same and even he was granted bail in 2008 after he was sentenced to only 15 years in prison. Inderjit Singh Reyat spent over 20 years in jail for his role in the deadliest mass murder in Canadian history.
Reyat was also convicted on two counts of manslaughter for his role in building a bomb that exploded at the Narita International airport, killing two baggage handlers. The luggage bomb in Air India Flight 182 exploded when it was above the Atlantic Ocean near Ireland on its way from Montreal in Canada to London. A similar fate awaited the other aircraft as well but it exploded before it could be loaded onto the plane.
The terror attack was carried out by Khalistanis in revenge for former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s decision to storm the Golden Temple in order to rid it of Bhindranwale. Apart from his role in the terrorist attack, Reyat was also accused of lying and committing perjury during the trial of Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.
Justice Ian Josephson called Reyat an “unmitigated liar under oath” while acquitting Malik and Bagri of the bombing deaths. While he at least served some time in prison, most others, including the individual believed to be in charge of the conspiracy, died a natural death without facing the consequences for their actions.
Years after the incident, in 2010, a report on the matter blamed a “cascading series of errors” by the government, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the spy agency for failing to avert the terror attack. Former Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major said that the blunders that were committed by security agencies were “inexcusable”.
“I stress this is a Canadian atrocity,” Major said. “For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has somehow been relegated outside the Canadian consciousness.” 268 Canadian citizens died in the act of terrorism. 27 Brits and 24 Indians were also murdered in the said attack.
The report also said that Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and RCMP were in possession of pieces of information “that, taken together, would have led a competent analyst to conclude that Flight 182 was at high risk of being bombed by known Sikh terrorists in June 1985.” One of the key recommendations of the report was for the Prime Minister to clear the turf wars between the agencies.
Organisations suspected of involvement
Inderjit Singh Reyat was a member of the International Sikh Youth Fderation (ISYF), which has since then been banned in Australia, European Union, Japan, India, Canada and the USA through counter-terrorism legislation. Even so, it continued to receive funds from Sikh extremists based in western countries.
ISYF members have also engaged in numerous terrorist attacks and assassinations against Hindus as well as Sikhs who did not align themselves with their cause. One of the founders of the banned outfit was Jasbir Singh Rode, a nephew of Bhindranwale. It also collaborated with other terrorist organisations such as Babbar Khalsa and the Khalistan Liberation Force.
Babbar Khalsa was also suspected of involvement in the terrorist attack on Air India Flight 182. It was later found in an inquiry that the terror attack was indeed carried out by the banned outfit headed by Talwinder Singh Parmar. It receives funds from the ISI in Pakistan and terrorist groups based in Germany to reignite terrorism in Punjab.
Support for Khalistani Terrorists abroad
Despite the heinous terrorist attack on Air India Flight 182, Khalistani terrorists continue to enjoy support in western countries. Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone appointed a member of Sikh Federation UK, the successor of ISYF, to the Board of Transport of London. Dabinderjit Singh had also been a member of the ISYF itself.
More recently, Canada has emerged as a safe haven for Khalistani terrorists. During Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official visit to India in 2018, terrorist Jaspal Atwal convicted in an attempt to assassinate an Indian Minister received official invitation to a dinner hosted by the Canadian High Commission. It created quite the furore even then. Atwal, too, is a former member of the ISYF.
Another prominent Canadian politician, Jagmeet Singh, has also been under the radar of Indian intelligence agencies for his pro-Khalistani and pro-Pakistan stance. In 2014, he had been denied a Visa by Indian authorities. Two years later, he had attended a pro-Khalistan seminar and went so far as to endorse the use of violence to establish Khalistan by partitioning India again.
The Legacy of Air India Flight 182 Kanishka
Thirty-five years after the terrorist attack on Air India Flight 182 that led to the death of everyone on board, it appears that the lessons of history have been forgotten. In 2020, support for Khalistan, ironically, does not essentially come from Indian Sikhs but from those who have settled abroad.
Politicians in western countries for the purpose of their suicidal brand of vote-bank politics have not only entertained such extremists but also encouraged them and provided them with financial support to increase their base. Justin Trudeau’s approach towards Khalistani terrorists has led to deteriorating relationship between the two countries and it was only to be expected.
The terror attack in 1985 was the greatest evidence of the fact that in an extremely interconnected world such as ours, a ripple in a pond has the potential to cause a tsunami miles away. While western politicians mollycoddle Khalistani extremists in their pursuit of power, they appear to have forgotten that they are risking the well-being of their own citizens. But as has become evident of late, the welfare of their citizens is the last thing that western politicians care about.
For India, the mainstreaming of Sikh extremism abroad has the potential to cause turmoil in our country. Therefore, it has become imperative for our intelligence agencies and diplomats to keep an eye on such radical elements in foreign nations. Under such circumstances, western countries would do well to remember, those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.