Gurpreet Singh: Capital of crows

I have always been fond of books, but never before have I read so many in one single year. I have actually lost the count of those I read, one after another, at two times simultaneously during the pandemic.

COVID-19 turned me into a book addict, compelling me to keep researching for them online and continue ordering. So much so, I reread some and pulled out those I have been collecting over the years for my home library but never had time to go through.

Around this time, I began reading Panchatantra, a collection of fables that many believe were written around 200 BCE by Hindu scholar Pandit Vishnu Sharma. It is said that a king had entrusted his three sons to him so that they would learn niti (policy making).

One of the stories that caught my attention deeply was Kākolūkīyam (“On War and Peace: The story of the crows and the owls”). I could not resist relating it to some bigger and real events that happened in Canada and continue to affect us even today.

Being a journalist by profession, I have a responsibility to look at any issue from different angles. The story gave me one perspective that I wanted to share, but I am not sure if anyone would listen.

The story goes like this: there’s a bloody rivalry between two kingdoms. One is led by an owl and the other by a crow.

Crows are enraged over the continued killing of their tribe by owls during the nights. Since owls can see in the dark, the crows are always on the receiving end in an event of attack.

The crows then decide to wipe out the owls once and for all. They begin chalking out a strategy and eventually decide to penetrate one of their own among the owls, who could spy on their activities to find an appropriate moment for their annihilation.

As part of their plan, they kick out one of the members of their flock. Once it comes to the attention of the owls, they get carried away and offer him refuge. This is despite some opposition by a few owls who remain skeptical about the abandoned crow, but the owl king remains adamant and decides to take it under his wing.

The crow is brought to the kingdom of owls and given a place to stay. As the days pass, the crow perceived to be an estranged tribe member, but an infiltrator in reality, keeps watch on the daily routine of the rivals.

The owls sleep during the day, and remain active in the nights. Their precise location is also revealed, making it easier for the crows to know where and when to strike. After gaining their confidence, the spy crow flies back to its kingdom while the owls sleep, and gives them the signal for an invasion.

As a result, the crows attack the cave and burn them all alive.

If you are Canadian and have been closely following the case of Air India bombings, you cannot help making parallels. This particular story of Panchatantra clearly speaks in the same language as the saga of Air India.

Air India Flight 182 was bombed mid-air above the Irish Sea on June 23, 1985, leaving all 329 people aboard dead. Around the same time two baggage handlers were killed in a separate blast on the ground at Narita Airport in Japan.

The explosions were caused by two suitcase bombs checked in at the Vancouver airport on flights headed to India. The incident is widely blamed on Babbar Khalsa, a banned terror group that was seeking a separate Sikh state of Khalistan.

Authorities both in India and Canada continue to claim that this was done to avenge the repression of Sikhs in India.

A year before the bombings, the Indian military had invaded the Golden Temple Complex, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs in Amritsar, to deal with handful of insurgents holed up inside the place of worship. The ill-conceived army operation left many innocent pilgrims dead.

This outraged the Sikhs across the world, culminating in the assassination of then-prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards on October 31, 1984. Her murder was followed by a Congress Party officials’-sponsored massacre of Sikhs all over India.

To make sure that I read everything right in Panchatantra, I was forced to scan once again Soft Target: The Real Story Behind the Air India Disastera book that challenged the official theory of the Air India bombings.

Its authors, Zuhair Kashmeri and Brian McAndrew, go into many details of the conspiracy before questioning whether this might have been the handiwork of the Indian spy agency Research and Analysis Wingwhich wanted to discredit Sikh separatists in the eyes of the international community.

Did R&AW infiltrate agents among Sikh activists in Canada and influence them to target Air India planes so that the supporters of Khalistan would lose all the sympathy and support that they had generated because of the ugly incidents of 1984?

As the years went by, this alternative viewpoint gained more credence as some of the characters named in the Air India case either turned away from the cause of Khalistan or, in some cases, started showing an inclination towards the Indian state.

A few have already passed away. These include Talwinder Singh Parmar of Babbar Khalsa.

Parmar, who was the alleged mastermind, was killed at the hands of Indian police under mysterious circumstances in 1992. With his death he died an important link to the investigation raising more even more questions about the involvement of the Indian establishment.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, a BC-based Sikh millionaire, was accused of being a financier, but was acquitted in 2005. He recently expressed his outright support for the current Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, whose Hindu supremacist party BJP is determined to turn India into Hindu theocracy.

Before that Malik was given an Indian visa to visit the country of his birth. His brother acknowledged during a TV interview that they had a cordial meeting with R&AW chief Samant Goel.

This is despite the fact that the judge who acquired Malik in 2005 due to lack of evidence had told him that his “not guilty” verdict was not a pronouncement of his innocence.

The word that strongly binds the two stories together is niti, which has become relevant today under a Hindu nationalist government. For the BJP, this is like a mantra, a tenet, which is even more sacred than the relatively advanced and progressive constitution of India.

Whatever was done to the Sikhs in 1984 under a different regime was clearly aimed at pleasing the Hindu majority for short-term electoral gains for the Congress party but which benefited the BJP in the long run.

If the so-called secular Congress government under Indira and her son — the late Rajiv Gandhi who succeeded her as the next prime minister — could behave in a sectarian manner to target the Sikh minority, what can stop Modi from pursuing a divisive agenda far more aggressively?

Thanks to Modi, the use of niti by some of the think tanks sitting in New Delhi, the capital of the crows, stands exposed.

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