India rebuts Canadian innuendo on invite to Khalistani Atwal

The Indian government has strongly rebutted allegations that a faction within the government was responsible for the invitation to alleged Khalistani separatist and would-be assassin Jaspal Atwal to a dinner with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was in India last week.

The allegations that India or its security agencies had anything to do with the presence of Jaspal Atwal at the Mumbai event or the dinner invitation is "baseless and unacceptable," external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said on Wednesday.

In a background briefing arranged by the Canadian Prime Minister's Office, a senior government official with knowledge of the prime minister's security protocols suggested to reporters that an invitation to Jaspal Atwal was arranged by factions within the Indian government to make the Canadian government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism.

The Conservatives later identified the official who put out this theory as Trudeau's national security adviser Daniel Jean.

Atwal was convicted of attempting to assassinate Indian  the former planning minister of Punjab Malkiat Singh Sidhu in 1986 when he was visiting Vancouver Island. He was also charged - but not convicted - in the 1985 attack on Ujjal Dosanjh, who later became a federal Liberal cabinet minister in Canada.

During Trudeau's visit to India, Atwal was photographed with members of the Canadian PM's entourage, including his wife Sophie, at a Mumabi event. Atwal lives in Canada, but apparently travelled to India for the occasion of Trudeau's visit.

It also emerged that Atwal had been extended an invitation to a dinner that was to be thrown in honour of Trudeau at the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi. The invitation, the existence of which embarrassed Trudeau and his delegation, was later rescinded.

The MEA's reaction came hours after Trudeau, while speaking in the Canadian Parliament, backed the official who floated the rogue Indian elements theory.

On 22 February, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had reported that a "senior government official" with knowledge of Trudeau's "security protocols" had suggested that "rogue political elements in India may have orchestrated the embarrassing invitation" to Atwal in an attempt to "make the Canadian government appear sympathetic to Sikh extremism."

Speaking on the official's comments in the Canadian Parliament on Tuesday, Trudeau said, "When one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it's because they know it to be true."

Trudeau's remark came in response to the Canadian opposition cornering the prime minister on the issue. The opposition identified the official as Trudeau's national security adviser, Daniel Jean.

"A senior security official made these allegations. Does the prime minister agree or disavow those allegations?" Canadian opposition leader Andrew Scheer asked Trudeau in Parliament, CBC reported.

To this, Trudeau responded, "Our professional, non-partisan public service does high-quality work and when one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it's because they know it to be true."

Atwal's invitation came through British Colunbia Liberal MP Randeep Sarai, who put the former member of a banned extremist group on the guest list for a dinner at the Canadian High Commission in India.

Sarai resigned as chair of his party's Pacific caucus late Tuesday.