Intel sources say Chawla, the Pakistan gurudwara committee member whose photograph with Sidhu created an uproar, has never been a suspect in any terror case.
New Delhi: Gopal Singh Chawla, the general secretary of the Pakistan Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee (PGPC), has been dubbed a ‘Khalistani terrorist’ by the Indian media but no Indian intelligence agency lists him as a suspect in any terror case.
Chawla found himself at the heart of a political row in India after being photographed with Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu at the Kartarpur ground-breaking ceremony in Pakistan on 28 November. He has been accused of being a Khalistani terrorist as well as a close aide of Hafiz Saeed, the alleged mastermind of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
Sources in the Indian intelligence agencies, however, told ThePrint that not only has Chawla’s name not cropped up in any terror case but it has also not found mention in intel intercepts and inputs.
“His name has not cropped up in any of the terror cases that we have been investigating,” an officer said. “In fact, he is not even a suspect in any of the pending cases.
The officer also said that there are a few big names such as Ranjeet Singh Neeta, Lakhbir Singh, Wadhwa Singh, Harmeet Singh Happy associated with Sikh militancy but Chawla’s name has never figured in any of these investigations.
In Punjab Police circles, however, he is believed to be an ISI agent.
On 1 November, Punjab Police claimed to have busted a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist module, the Khalistan Gadar Force, with the arrest of one Shabnamdeep Singh from Patiala, who allegedly planned to attack police stations, police posts and crowded places.
Police claimed that investigations then revealed that in July 2018, he was contacted by one Javed Khan Wazir, a suspected Pakistani Intelligence Officer (PIO), and was also introduced to Chawla.
“He was introduced to a Pakistani Sikh Gopal Singh Chawla and two other persons, also supporters of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) who asked him to join more associates and propagate Sikh Referendum-2020 in a big way,” a Punjab Police officer said.
Not terrorist but support separate Sikh state
Speaking to ThePrint over the phone, Chawla denied indulging in any terror activity but admitted that he supports the creation of a separate state for Sikhs.
“Yes, I am for a separate state for Sikhs but that does not make me a terrorist. We were promised one in 1986 by the Hindu leadership but they did not keep their promise,” he said.
“If Hindus talk of a Hindu Rashtra then they are pure and patriotic but if we Sikhs demand it, then we become terrorists.”
Denying any association with the recent Amritsar grenade attack that killed three people, Chawla said, “I am a parbandhak of the Gurudwara, a sewak of our Guru. I associate myself only with kada prashad and amrit not with weapons or violence.”
Chawla also insisted that Sidhu, who he termed as a “pride of the Sikh community”, had no idea who he was.
“I just went there to welcome Sidhu. He does not know me or, in fact, Tara Singh (the PGPC chief),” Chawla said. “Pakistan loves Sidhu, the Sikh community here respects him.”
Chawla said that he was at the Kartarpur ceremony as a guest and especially went to greet Sidhu.
“He is a great statesman, he has also represented Sikhs in cricket and we have great regard for him,” he said. “We got a photo clicked with Sidhu as we look up to him and wanted to keep it as a memory.”
Chawla also said that he could not understand the fuss over the photograph. “Many others were getting pictures with him. How did it become that big an issue?”
‘No links to Hafiz Saeed’
Chawla denied being a close aide of Saeed. Photographs had emerged on social media of the PGPC general secretary with Saeed, alleging a “close connection” between the two.
“Saeed runs charities in Pakistan and I had met him at a human rights event, where the picture was clicked. I could certainly not have asked the organisers to get him off the stage,” Chawla said. “Since Saeed runs charities, including hospitals, he is often invited to these events, where I too am a guest. He (Saeed) is a Pakistan national and that is the only connection I have with him.”
Speaking of the photograph in which he is seen shaking hands with the Pakistani Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chawla said: “I am a Pakistani national and to meet the Army chief and shake hands with him is an absolute honour.
“How did that become a controversy? I was not shaking hands with the Army chief of an enemy country, it is the chief of my own nation,” he added.
He also called on politicians and others not to spread hate.
“Also if I am shaking hands with my Army chief and then a politician from a neighbouring country, is that wrong? Let us stop spreading hate for no reason,” he said.
Chawla added that such negativity could destroy the efforts to ensure peace in the region. “After so much effort, the two countries have agreed to get over their differences, then why spoil it with such negativity? Why spoil it with something so insignificant,” he said.