Ujjal Dev Dosanjh was 18 when he left India for Canada. Thirty-five years later, he became the first person of Indian origin to become the premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia, serving from February 2000 to June 2001. He also served as the minister of health of Canada from 2004 to 2006. Dosanjh once publicly took on the Khalistanis and almost paid with his life. In 1985, he survived a major attack with nearly 100 stitches on his head. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, Dosanjh speaks about the crisis in India-Canada ties and the Khalistan issue. Edited excerpts:
Q/ How do you view the recent developments?
A/ It is tragic. A life has been lost and you have a country of 1.4 billion people being branded as rogue for having sent someone across international boundaries to kill a person. If that is true, that is not appropriate for a country to do. In Canada, the prime minister has made a statement, but has put out no evidence. It would have been preferable as a Canadian to look at some evidence and then decide for myself whether or not the prime minister is doing the right thing. We are being left in the dark. There is a larger issue of the relationship between India and Canada. It was in deep freeze, and now it will be a deeper freeze.
Prime Minister Trudeau is surrounded by Khalistanis, including Jagmeet Singh, who is not trusted by India. Prime Minister Modi, on the other hand, has a bit of a black eye in the democratic world because of the lynchings of dalits, the atrocities against Muslims and what is happening in the northeast and his deafening silence.
Every time Trudeau speaks, he talks about freedom of expression. Everyone has a right to free expression. Anyone can demand Khalistan. But Trudeau comes up short when you examine this issue thoroughly. If you consider India a friendly country, then you should stand up as the leader of Canada and say, ‘Khalistanis, you have a right to express your views, but I don't support the dismemberment of India. It is a friendly democracy, and we need to work together'. Nobody said that. There is enough blame to go around on all sides.
Q/ Canada is increasingly being viewed through the Khalistan prism.
A/ India legitimately sees Canada through the Khalistani prism because of the conduct of this government. Under the Trudeau regime, some years ago, there was a national security report which indicated that Khalistan extremism was one of the threats to Canada. They whitewashed that report. Trudeau sustains his government with the support of a known Khalistani Jagmeet Singh.
In Punjab, there is no sign of Khalistan, I was there in May. Ironically, and tragically, Canada, which is 15,000 miles away, has become home to this secessionist movement. The gang war of various groups connected to Punjab is unfolding on Canadian soil. I am concerned as a Canadian.
Q/ You survived an assassination attempt. Canadians, whether Punjabi or not, are facing a Khalistani problem.
A/ Of course, Canada is affected. Every other day, you see people at events at temples with Khalistani flags and slogans. It is a nuisance for ordinary Canadians and Canadians of Indian origin who do not support this nonsense. I put that down to democracy. But when violence happens that obviously impinges on people's lives much more drastically, it is fruitless for people sitting here and demanding Khalistan. It is a pipe dream. They are actually diverting people's attention from the real issues of economy, politics, education and health care.
Q/ You have talked about Trudeau’s own history with the Khalistanis. Is Khalistan key for his next election?
A/ Oh, absolutely not. People have this idea that somehow Canadians vote on the issue of Khalistan. But 95 per cent of the people in this country do not vote for this religion or that religion. They vote based on the state of the economy. They want to make sure their children and grandchildren have education and good health care, good roads and schools. You see a huge Baisakhi parade, then somebody can bring 100 flags, and spread them all over. But that does not make everyone marching in that parade Khalistani.
Q/ Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannu asked all Hindu Canadians to leave. Is majoritarian politics spilling over?
A/ It is already here. I have some friends who used to be Maoists 40 years ago. You scratch their skin and underneath you now find the macho Modi influence. It is scary. Modi has weaponised the diaspora. No other government ever did that.
Q/ What about Pakistan?
A/ A lot of people believe that Khalistan only happened after 1984. But Khalistan was here in the 1970s. In 1971, after the Bangladesh war, Jagjit Singh Chauhan went to Pakistan, then came to Canada and had a declaration of Khalistani independence published in the New York Times. A full page advertisement does not come cheap. We have known that during those times the ISI and the CIA were funding those activities against India. The CIA no longer does it directly. But whatever money the US gives to Pakistan goes to the ISI. So they are still funding the ISI's activities indirectly.