The Union government on Monday designated Canada-based Arshdeep Singh Gill as a terrorist over his association with Khalistani movement and terrorist acts.
Gill has been designated as a terrorist under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). The law was amended in 2019 to empower the Union government to designate individuals as terrorists as well. Earlier, only orgnaisations could be designated.
Gill is closely associated with Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) who carries a reward of Rs 10 lakhs, according to a notification issued by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Nijjar was designated as terrorist in 2020.
Here is all you need to know about Arshdeep Singh Gill, his links with the Khalistan movement, and what does government action mean.
Who is Arshdeep Singh Gill?
Arshdeep Singh Gill was born in Punjab but went to Canada later in his life. He has now been designated as a terrorist under UAPA Act.
Arshdeep, also known as Arsh Dala, was born on May 21, 1996, in Jagraon village in Punjab's Ludhiana.
Arshdeep is currently based in Canada and is associated with Khalistan Tiger Force chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
"Presently based in Canada, [Arshdeep] is associated with Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF)...Arshdeep Singh Gill @ Arsh Dala is very close to Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a designated terrorist under the said Act and runs terror modules on behalf of him," says the MHA notification.
The MHA says Arshdeep is involved in targeted killings, terror financing, and cross-border smuggling.
"Arshdeep Singh Gill @ Arsh Dala is involved in heinous crimes such as murder, extortion and targeted killings besides terror activities...Arshdeep Singh Gill @ Arsh Dala is involved in terror financing, cross border smuggling of drugs or weapons in large scale," says the MHA notification.
The MHA further says he is under investigation by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
"Arshdeep Singh Gill @ Arsh Dala is accused in various cases registered and investigated by the National Investigation Agency including targeted killing, extorting money for terror funding, attempt to murder, disturbing communal harmony and creating terror among the people in the state of Punjab, India," says the MHA notifiation.
What's Khalistan Tiger Force, Who's Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
The MHA says Arshdeep Singh Gill is associated with the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and handles terror modules on behalf of its chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Both KTF and Nijjar are based in Canada.
Nijjar was designated as terrorist in 2020 along with eight other persons, all of whom were associated with the Khalistan movement.
The Khalistan movement aims for a Sikh nation to be carved out of India, including the Sikh-majority state of Punjab. The nation, as per believers of the Khalistan movement, would be called Khalistan. The Khalistan movement waged a bloody insurgency in Punjab for decades which finally ebbed in 1990s. Currently, Canada is a major hub of Khalistani organisations and supporters.
"These individuals are involved in various acts of terrorism from across the border and from foreign soil. They have been relentless in their nefarious efforts of destabilizing the country, by trying to revive militancy in Punjab through their anti national activities and through their support to and involvement in the Khalistan Movement," said the MHA in 2020 when it designated Nijjar as terrorist along with others.
Nijjar was recently also involved in organising Khalistan referendum in Brampton, Canada. He is also a chief of a Sikh gurdwara in Surrey in Canada.
"Pro-Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who is wanted in various terror cases in India, has been unanimously re-elected the president of the managing committee of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Surrey, in British Columbia province of Canada...Nijjar has been associated with the separatist organisation, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which is banned in India," reported Hindustan Times in October when Nijjar was elected as chief for the second time.
The KTF and Nijjar are accused in a plot to kill a Hindu priest in Punjab's Jalandhar.
"Nijjar is wanted by the NIA in a conspiracy case hatched by KTF to kill a Hindu priest at Jalandhar. Nijjar is presently residing in Canada and is the Chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF)," said NIA when it declared Rs 10 lakh reward on Nijjar.
Khalistan movement in Canada
Canada has emerged as a hub for Khalistani sympathisers in recent years as Canadian leaders have been soft on them. This is despite the fact that the biggest act of terror in Canadian history was carried out by Khalistanis.
On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 took off from Canada's Toronto to Mumbai via London. It exploded mid-air and killed all 329 passengers and crew onboard. Yet only one man was convicted in Canada for the bombing and that too decades after the bombing.
Talwinder Singh Parmar, the mastermind, was never convicted and a major Canadian leader was for long soft on him. After attending events peddling Khalistani ideas for years, it was only in 2018 that Jagmeet Singh acknowledged Parmar as being responsible for the Emperor Kanishka bombing. Jagmeet is the head of New Democratic Party (NDP).
At one point, Jagmeet, who is an influential leader and coalition partner of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, went on to say he had "no qualms" about attending rallies in future where those like Bhindranwale, who birthed the Khalistan movement, are honoured, reported Hindustan Times in 2018, citing CBC News.
The Hindustan Times also noted, "Facing sustained attack over his appearance at a rally featuring posters of Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and attending an event organised by a separatist group, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh has for the first 6time accepted that Babbar Khalsa International founder Talwinder Singh Parmar was the man behind the terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985."
The Government of India has taken up the issue with the Canadian government.
Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar in October said New Delhi has flagged issues related to Khalistani separatist forces operating out of Canada to Ottawa, emphasising the need to ensure that freedoms in a democratic society are not misused by forces which actually advocate violence and bigotry.
The Narendra Modi-led Union government served a demarche to the Justin Trudeau government in October, asking it to stop the so-called Khalistan referendum organised by a proscribed organisation in Ontario on November 6 as it challenges the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
In October, Jaishankar said, "From time to time, we have engaged the Canadian government, I have myself engaged with my counterpart on this (Khalistani) issue. And we have flagged the need to ensure that freedoms in a democratic society are not misused by forces which actually advocate violence and, and bigotry. So, it’s important, I think, to understand really, how democracies should function not only at home but also the responsibility that democracies have to other democracies abroad."
(With PTI inputs)