Jagmeet Singh defends appearance at Sikh independence rally held in US

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh went on the defensive on Wed, saying his appearance at a 2015 rally in San Francisco should not be read as lending support to extreme elements of the Sikh community calling for independence for their homeland.The rally venerated a violent Sikh religious leader who was killed in the Indian army assault on the Golden Temple in 1984.

Singh who was then an NDP member of the Ontario Legislature, was invited to speak at a “sovereignty rally” where speakers denounced India and called for an independent Sikh state known as Khalistan.

Videos of the event posted on Facebook and YouTube show the stage on which  Singh spoke featured a large poster of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the leader of an armed extremist group that occupied the Golden Temple.

Singh  who spent much of his early political life lobbying the Ontario government to recognize the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as an act of genocide  said he attended the rally to foster peace in a community still grieving three decades later over the violent events that left thousands dead. The riots erupted after Sikh bodyguards assassinated Indira Gandhi, India’s prime minister.

He said, “While there [at the San Francisco rally], I spoke directly about the pain in the community and my own path to learning about my heritage.”

“When faced with the knowledge that your relatives were targeted for who they were, you are faced with the question of how to respond. My response was to embrace my identity and work harder to stand up for human rights and not allow the voices of the marginalized to be made silent.”

There can be little doubt about the sympathies of many who attended that 10,000-strong rally in 2015. Some members of the crowd can be seen holding ceremonial swords and chanting “Khalistan, Khalistan,” while others carried signs that read “Sikhs demand independence.

In a statement sent Wednesday after the Globe and Mail first reported his presence at the rally, Singh said he does not support terrorist acts.

“I condemn all acts of terrorism in every part of the world, regardless of who the perpetrators are or who the victims are,” Singh said. “Terrorism can never be seen as a way to advance the cause of any one group. It only leads to suffering, pain and death.”