Harman Kandola: Navdeep Bains, Disinfo Campaigns, And A Valuable Lesson For Sikh Politicians Around The World
No matter how much "Dosa Diplomacy" you engage in, no matter how much you try to appease the Indian state, you will always be targeted for being a Sikh.
2.5 min. read
For those in Sikh spaces what Canadian Member of Parliament Navdeep Bains experienced at the hands of the Indian state disinformation machine is not very surprising - the entire propaganda process is quite predictable - but it does hold an important lesson for Sikh politicians around the world. India will try to undermine you eventually.
Compromised yet legitimate-looking Indian media outlets, in this case Zee News, publish fake and dubious claims at the behest of the Indian state in order to slander diasporic Sikhs in positions of power; these baseless attacks are then used to undermine the community as a whole.
The hope is that western media will pick up the story, as it has a local interest, and then generate an infinite loop of media articles quoting each other - further perpetuating the marginalization of the Sikh community in the diaspora and in India. This is well understood in security circles as a form of foreign interference and manipulation, including here in Canada.
We saw this strategy surgically play out during Prime Minister Trudeau’s infamous 2018 trip to India. In fact, February of that year alone saw over 150 Canadian media articles attacking Sikhs as a result of the Indian state disinformation campaign. They all largely quoted Indian media sources.
The Sikh community, through the World Sikh Organization of Canada, responded with the viral hashtag #AskCanadianSikhs. This eventually led to multiple editorial board meetings between the WSO and major Canadian media outlets. Since then, the Canadian media landscape has become much more cautious about picking up Indian media stories or government talking points without serious critical analysis. Although, they still do make mistakes.
What is surprising, however, is that the Indian state and media went after MP Bains specifically.
MP Bains, while respected as a capable Canadian politician, was not an outspoken Sikh community advocate. He was quiet during the India trip, which saw, alongside serious damage to community reputation via disinformation campaigns, the signing of an unprecedented security sharing framework with a state known for genocide, rampant human rights abuse, and a haphazard approach to the rule of law - especially when it comes to Sikhs.
He was also mostly quiet during the Public Safety Canada Terror Report fiasco, in which the government eventually and rightfully removed references to Sikhs in the Report after widespread and months-long protests.
When the genocide denying Canada India Foundation awarded the founder of Zee News, Subhash Chandra, with the 2016 Global Indian of the Year Award, it was MP Bains on stage with CIF organizers presenting the recognition. Yes, ironically the same Zee News that is now attacking MP Bains’ credibility. Also, yes, this is the same CIF that was recently embarrassed by Raptors Superfan Nav Bhatia when he rejected and returned the 2020 CIF Global Indian of the Year Award. All of which, in the theme of surprises, should not surprise you.
This whole incident teaches a valuable lesson for all Sikh politicians across the diaspora: no matter how much "Dosa Diplomacy" you engage in, no matter how much you try to appease the Indian state, you will always be targeted for being a Sikh.
Avoiding community issues, staying silent on important Sikh matters, or ignoring the grassroots will never be enough for the Indian state.
The mere existence of Sikhs, of diasporic Sikhs in western seats of power, will continuously be a threat to tyrannical Indian regimes - because they know the potential you have to shine a light on their atrocities.
Harman Singh Kandola hails from Edmonton, Canada, and is a litigation lawyer. He has experience as a political organizer at both the provincial and municipal levels. He serves on numerous boards and committees working to building a more inclusive and equitable society. You can follow him on Twitter at @harmankandola
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