By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN
In 1985, Air India’s flight 182, a Boeing 747 named Kanishka, blew up over the Atlantic off Ireland en route to India, killing all 329 aboard. A time-delayed bomb in the checked luggage was the culprit. Separatist Khalistanis were suspected of having planted the bombs. But no one was convicted for murder after the longest trial in Canadian history. Only one person was convicted, for manslaughter; two were acquitted in 2005. Thereafter, an enquiry commission was set up. Details are available at www.majorcomm.ca/index.asp.
For 22 years, an apparent cover-up hampered the investigation. But there are startling new revelations from surprise witnesses, some quite credible, including Lt. Gov. James K. Bartleman of Ontario. He said that he had seen an intelligence report with specifics about Khalistanis targeting an Air India flight, which the police had ignored. A Vancouver policeman testified that he got wind of the plot in 1984, eight months before the bombings, and passed the tip onong to a police intelligence unit in British Columbia, but it was not pursued.
The Canadians were perhaps blasé. They underestimated the threat to Air India, despite specific information that checked baggage might contain a bomb. They can be blamed for being complacent and perhaps a trace racist: they probably don’t take the lives of brown people very seriously. But they are facing up manfully to the results of their folly. Indeed, the net result of this may well be a lawsuit by the survivors, demanding $3 billion in compensation.
But the Indian government has shown it too doesn’t care about Indian lives. Why, after 22 years, has no Indian government ever put pressure on the Canadians, despite the fact that almost all of the 329 killed were Indian citizens or Canadians of Indian origin? Why, similarly, is India not protecting people of Indian origin in Fiji, and Uganda? Or Hindus being terrorized in Malaysia or Ukraine? Why isn’t the raucous media in India following the Canada story and forcing a debate about the rights, if any, of people of Indian origin?
These are painful reminders that the Indian government and media regularly practice apartheid, violating constitutional guarantees of equal treatment by discriminating against certain people and offering first claim on national resources to others.
Besides, it was the Indian government that alienated some Sikhs in the first place, turning the most patriotic of Indians into enemies of the State. And now, after all these years, it is unpardonable to turn a blind eye to the sorrow of those who lost their loved ones. Bharati Mukherjee’s heart-rending The Management of Grief tells us of their pain; the Indian government must be forced to never again take the lives of Indians lightly.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Bangalore.
No, the Canadian government was squarely to blame
By S. GOPIKRISHNA
There is a story about the late Devi Lal rabble-rousing in a remote Haryana village by holding forth about injustices meted out by Punjab against Haryana. “They steal everything,” he thundered, “including our crops and our water. They even steal all the electricity from the water before the river flows into Haryana!” Stealing electricity from water! The allegation merely proves that all is fair in war and vilification—much like blaming George Bush for tornadoes in Iowa and tropical storms in Florida.
The government of India may have committed many a faux pas, but to blame it for the lack of “action” on the ill-fated Kanishka jet is far-fetched. What does the Indian government have to do with a flight originating in Canada with passengers who are predominantly Canadian (albeit of Indian origin)?
The blame for the whole episode should be laid squarely at the feet of the Canadian government. In a country that boasts of being a bastion of enlightened multicultural respect, the then-Canadian prime minister committed a Freudian slip by calling Indian P.M. Rajiv Gandhi to offer condolences for the deaths of hundreds of “Indian citizens,” oblivious to the fact that the deceased were Canadian citizens of Indian origin.
This indifference came to symbolize the spirit and pace with which all the investigations were handled in Canada.
The legal trial took forever to start—the prime accused left Canada and had to be extradited back. The trial that finally started in 2003 exposed the Keystone-Kops functioning of the agencies. The security agencies had wiretaps on some of the suspects, but never got around to figuring out what they discussed due to the dearth of a decent Punjabi translator (this at a time when the Punjabi population of Vancouver numbered 50,000)—proving that ignorance is truly bliss. The errors, cover-ups, and missing documentation left the judge with no choice but to let the accused walk free.
The Canadian government successfully resisted all calls for an apology or a full-scale investigation from 1987 until 2006—notwithstanding a “pro-immigrant” government from 1993 to 2005 whose enthusiasm for a “sari-samosa” culture had to be seen to be believed.
Ontario’s lieutenant governor’s “revelation” about supposed evidence is merely the latest twist in a process that would be a joke if so many hadn’t lost their lives. This begs a question: Why was Bartleman silent for 22 long years? As an ambitious bureaucrat, was silence the preferred route to career advancement?
By blaming the Government of India, aren’t we supporting the inherent racism of the prime minister’s phone call of 1985—pretending that the problem was Indian when it was Canadian?
Toronto-based S. Gopikrishna writes on topics pertinent to India and Indians.