New Delhi: Delhi Police is investigating a video that purportedly features Canadian national Mo Dhaliwal linking the farmers’ protests with radical Sikh separatist politics.
Dhaliwal is a 40-something PR professional and founder of the Poetic Justice Foundation (PJF), a Canada-based organisation that claims to be working to create awareness about the farmers’ protest. He is among those being investigated in connection with the controversial toolkit blamed for the 26 January violence in Delhi by sections of protesting farmers.
Delhi Police alleges that PJF played a “vital role” in creating the toolkit to promote disaffection “against the government”.
The toolkit has spawned a sedition investigation by Delhi Police, which has so far arrested a Bengaluru-based activist, Disha Ravi, and booked two others — lawyer Nikita Jacob and engineer Shantanu Muluk — in connection with the case.
In the video, accessed by ThePrint, Dhaliwal purportedly says even if the farm laws get repealed tomorrow, “that is not a victory” but just a “beginning”.
The comments, it appears, are being made to a group of people in the undated video. He talks about the farmers’ protests and asks his audience to understand “the feeling and emotion that the Khalistan group is bringing to this”.
“If anybody tells you that this battle is going to end with the repeal that is because they are trying to drain energy from this movement. They are trying to tell you that you are separate from Punjab, you are separated from Khalistan movement… you are not,” he says in the video, which emerged on social media after 26 January.
“You have to at some point understand the feeling and the emotion that the Khalistan group is bringing to this.”
A senior Delhi Police officer said Dhaliwal is “a separatist and the video in which he is openly propagating the cause of Khalistan shows that”.
“This also shows how PJF in the garb of farmers’ protests pushed the Khalistani agenda,” the officer added. “We are probing the video and the PJF’s connection with radical group ‘Sikhs For Justice’.”
ThePrint reached Dhaliwal several times through messages on Twitter, asking him for a response on the video and the allegations made by police and Indian agencies.
Dhaliwal was first contacted on 9 February, with queries about allegations that an “international conspiracy” was at work behind the toolkit, and about this video. He, however, did not respond.
ThePrint reached him twice on 12 February to seek his response on allegations by Indian agencies. To this, Dhaliwal said he is “worried about distortion”.
ThePrint assured him that his responses would be published “as it is”, and said questions could be sent over email, so he can send written replies. Dhaliwal said he needed to consult his team on the matter.
ThePrint then sent several messages to Dhaliwal on 12 February, asking him to respond to fresh allegations made by Delhi Police against the PJF and him in their press conference, but did not get any response.
Dhaliwal was again contacted Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but he did not respond.
Who is Mo Dhaliwal?
Mo Dhaliwal was born and raised in Canada to Indian immigrants from Punjab. According to his Facebook profile, he is an alumnus of the University of British Columbia and the University of Fraser Valley.
He is director of strategy at a Canada-based PR firm Skyrocket. In Canadian media, he has been described as an “award-winning arts and diversity advocate, curator”.
He serves on the board of directors at Vancouver Opera and Coastal Jazz, and is also a director at BC Alliance for Arts and Culture.
He incorporated the Vancouver International Bhangra Celebration Society, and is said to be close to New Democratic Party (NDP) leader and Canadian MP Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal. He coined the slogan that underpinned Singh’s successful 2017 campaign, “Love and Courage”.
The PJF, which describes itself as an organisation that “challenges structures of oppression and discrimination through intersectional grassroots advocacy”, claims on its website that “currently we are most actively involved in the #FarmersProtest”.
On Twitter, the organisation has been actively tweeting about the farmers protests with the hashtag “AskIndiaWhy”, which has also spawned a website by the same name.
In October last year, sources in Delhi Police said, Dhaliwal was a panelist for a webinar named ‘Khalistan, a conversation on trauma, racism and sovereignty’, which was organised by the PJF. The programme involved a discussion on the Sikh separatist movement.
According to sources in the security establishment, Dhaliwal’s Skyrocket paid pop star Rihanna to tweet in favour of the farmers earlier this month. PJF, however, issued a statement denying the allegations.
“We didn’t pay anyone to tweet — and certainly didn’t pay anyone $2.5m to do so,” read the statement, signed by Dhaliwal and Anita Lal, director of the Canada-based World Sikh Organisation, and co-founder of PJF.
What he said in video
The purported Dhaliwal video sees him dwell at length on the Sikh separatist movement, which he attempts to link with the concerns of farmers protesting against the farm laws. Among other things, he says his uncle was a part of the Sikh separatist movement during its peak in India.
Even if the laws are repealed, he says, “they (farmers and people of Punjab) will go back to the same poison soil, poison river”.
“That means they get to go back home, to the poison soil, the poison rivers and that means they get to go back to live the same life of subsistence they have been living this whole time,” he says.
The reason why the “Khalistani people” are so passionate about this (farmers’ agitation) is because 50 years later they are seeing the truth that they “predicted in the 1970s,” he adds.
“In 1970s, they wanted an independent land so that we did not have to live through this movement,” he says.
He then requests all youngsters to “not close your eyes, minds, hearts to each other and ask questions on why people became terrorists to become part of this independence movement”.
“If you see somebody with a sign that you do not understand and has this bad word khalsa on it, ask questions, learn, understand what is going on and why those people are here. Nobody wanted to become a khadku (terrorist), no one wanted to become a terrorist,” he says.
In the video, Dhaliwal says he lost his uncle in the 1990s “because he became a khadku”. “No one wants to leave home, no one wants to become anonymous, no one wants to die young. Why would they want to do that?” he asks.
“Why would someone leave home to become a khadku, to become a part of this independence movement, unless they were under so much pain and oppression that they could not live in their home land anymore?” he says.
Whether it is kisan ekta, or “Khalistan”, it is part of the “same movement”, he adds.
“My request to everyone here, whether you are carrying a ‘kisan ekta mazdoor zindabad’ flag, or a farm bill flag, or a kesri jhanda or a Khalistan jhanda, learn and understand that we are all a part of the same movement,” he says.
‘I am a Khalistani’
Dhaliwal has expressed support for the Sikh separatist campaign earlier as well. A Facebook post dated 17 September 2020 saw him claim “I am a Khalistani. You might not know this about me”.
“Why? Because Khalistan is an idea. Khalistan is a living, breathing movement,” he wrote.
“A movement towards an independent Punjab, rooted in the Anandpur Sahib Resolution — a beautifully progressive and optimistic doctrine for a self-governing state if there ever was one. Second, because in India, advocating for or simply discussing this idea can result in your disappearance or murder,” he said.
“I support the promotion of Khalistan specifically for the fact that talking about Khalistan is enough to get you killed. It tells you a lot about the world’s largest ‘democracy’,” he wrote.