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Issue of Sikh militancy not over yet

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    The controversy revolving around the Surrey Vaisakhi Parade refuses to die down even days after the event passed peacefully. The April 12 parade was organized to celebrate the harvest festival and the birth of the Khalsa, the most devout form of Sikhism.

    Over 100,000 people participated in the event organized by the management of the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple, which supports the struggle for Khalistan or a separate Sikh homeland in India. Prominent B.C. politicians, including Premier Gordon Campbell and opposition leader Carole James skipped the event in an apparent bid to avoid hullabaloo.

    Last year, the organizers of the event had glorified Talwinder Singh Parmar, a slain Sikh militant and an alleged mastermind of the Air India bombing of 1985. The presence of prominent politicians in that parade thus became a major source of embarrassment. Though the organizers decided not to display the picture of Parmar this time, they insisted on displaying the pictures of other Sikh rebels, including the assassins of the former Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi.

    This week, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Government House Leader Mike de Jong addressed a press conference in Surrey where he admitted that the provincial government wants to have better trade relations with India.

    The Punjabi Press Club claims that de Jong was originally scheduled to have a discussion with them, but the media advisory sent out by the Public Affairs Bureau said that the honourable Mike de Jong, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Government House Leader, will be meeting with members of the South Asian media to discuss community issues.

    The event eventually turned into a press conference that was attended by representatives of the mainstream media as well. The last minute change annoyed some representatives of the Punjabi Press Club, who skipped the meeting.

    Mike de Jong insisted that the B.C. government does not want to get involved in the internal disputes of India. However, he remained evasive on some issues and gave diplomatic replies to some questions. Asked whether the B.C. Liberal candidates will visit the Dashmesh Darbar Sikh temple during the next election campaign as the "objectionable" pictures will still remain on the walls of the temple, he described the question as hypothetical.

    Likewise, he could not explain how B.C. politicians are going to deal with the apex religious body of the Sikhs, the SGPC which recognizes some of the Sikh militants as martyrs, including the assassins of Gandhi. As a practice, the SGPC honours provincial politicians when they visit the Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Punjab, India that was stormed by the army on the instructions of Gandhi to flush out extremists.

    Interestingly, a similar parade organized by the supporters of Khalistan in Toronto displayed the pictures of the same militants whose pictures stirred a controversy in Surrey. However, the Khalistan supporters claim that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty participated in that event. Are East Coast politics different from West Coast politics?

    The real test of for B.C.'s politicians on Sikh militancy is yet to come. Only the time will tell how long and how far they stick to their position.

    - By Gurpreet Singh, Surrey Now
    Gurpreet Singh is a broadcaster with Surrey-based Radio India.

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