Amarjeet Sohi will lead a Canadian team to Gujarat summit.
New Delhi/Gandhinagar 6 January 2017. Once branded a Khalistani terrorist with alleged links to Naxals and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, former Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) detenu Amarjeet Sohi will be welcomed back to India as a privileged guest next week to attend the Vibrant Gujarat summit as Canada’s Infrastructure and Communities Minister.
Gujarat officials said Mr. Sohi will lead a delegation to the bi-annual investors summit in Gandhinagar.
In 1988, as a 24-year-old youth activist, Amarjeet Sohi, who belonged to a family in Sangrur and had emigrated to Canada, returned to take part in a theatre programme in Bihar on land rights, when he was arrested under the dreaded TADA.
Police in Azadbhiga accused him of being a Khalistani come to recruit Naxal fighters for the cause.
Eventually, Mr. Sohi’s release was helped by Amnesty International and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), who sent testimonies in his favour. However, Mr Sohi, who has been back to India several times since his release and still has family in Punjab, has said he bears no “ill will” towards authorities in India.
Ministry of External Affairs (MoEA) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) sources said there would be no problem with Mr. Sohi’s past for his first official visit either. “There are no cases against Mr. Sohi and no issue regarding his visit,” an official said.
He will arrive in Delhi on January 9, and then travel to Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar where Canada is one of the partners in the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. Officials said he will visit Mumbai and possibly travel to Punjab to meet family members as well.
Mr. Sohi’s visit will be one of a series of ministerial trips ahead of an expected visit by Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sometime in March. Another Canadian-Sikh minister of Indian origin, Harjit Sajjan, who is the Defence Minister, is also expected to visit in the next few weeks. Mr. Trudeau’s Cabinet includes four Sikh Americans, leading him to quip once that he had “more Sikhs in his Cabinet than [PM] Modi does.”
As an immigrant, Mr. Sohi’s story is of particular interest in Canada, as he drove a municipal bus for years before he was elected City Councillor.
He has also spent much of his time on “promoting socially inclusive communities”, the Gujarat government’s literature on him records.
He also kept his theatre activism going and staged a play about the Komagata Maru incident where 350 people, mostly Sikhs, died aboard a ship of refugees that had been refused permission to enter by Canada in 1914.
In May 2016, PM Trudeau apologised in Parliament for the incident, for which Mr. Sohi had campaigned.
In his 2015 interview, Mr. Sohi said: “Once I was mistaken for a terrorist because I was a Sikh. If we start marginalising people here because of their faith, who does that help? It doesn’t help us. It probably helps the ISIS [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria].”
With inputs from Mahesh Langa