Twenty-five years ago, Air India flight 182 from Montréal to New Delhi exploded over the Irish sea, killing all 329 on board. Even though most of the victims were Indian nationals or of Indian origin, the tragedy disappeared from the foreground of public consciousness with a strange speed — displaced perhaps by the succession of horrors that have scarred the country since then. In Canada, however, victims' rights groups and community campaigners mounted sustained pressure on the government. Earlier this month, their relentless work yielded results when a commission of inquiry led by a retired Canadian Supreme Court judge, John Major, published its findings. The report slammed Canada's security services for a series of staggering failures they committed in the months leading up to the bombing, and for the botched investigation that followed it. The commission's report will not set right wrongs. But Justice Major has brought out the truth — or at least a great part of it. In the months to come, the commission's findings could conceivably help Indian diplomats persuade Pakistan to hand over key figures linked to the Flight 182 perpetrators, like the Babbar Khalsa International chief Wadhawa Singh Babbar and International Sikh Youth Federation leader Lakhbir Singh Brar.
India needs to learn lessons from the institutional processes that allowed Canada to engage in a thoroughgoing audit of the Flight 182 disaster, no matter how embarrassing it has proved to the country's intelligence and police services. No Indian government has seen it fit to engage in a rigorous, transparent audit of the multiple failures of administration, policing, and intelligence that allowed so many regional conflicts to develop into murderous insurgencies. Nor have the reasons why it took five years for India's police and intelligence services to unravel the operations of the jihadist networks we now know as the Indian Mujahideen been laid bare. Even the Ram Pradhan-V. Balachandran committee, which unearthed a mass of detail on intelligence and police failures before and during the November 26, 2008 Lashkar-e-Taiba assault on Mumbai, was not given the power to summon witnesses or demand classified central government documentation. India's experience with commissions of enquiry has not been brilliant. Justice M.C. Jain's quixotic report on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the less-than-optimal course of Justice M.S. Liberhan's investigation of the Babri Masjid demolition are cases in point. The failure over the long term to establish institutions that can explore the truth and present it boldly to the public has led to pervasive deficits of accountability.
Keywords: Kanishka bombing