By Tirthankar Mitra
Years nay decades after the shadow of Khalistan has departed from Punjab, it came calling again from Canada. It needs no great political understanding to realise that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is playing to the Sikh diaspora’s extremist fringe when he accused India from the floor of the Canadian Parliament of violating his country’s sovereignty.
But the fact remains that it is just the other way around. Earlier, Trudeau and other members of his Cabinet had made unwarranted comments on the protests in India including those on the repealed farm laws. Now Trudeau finding his popularity apparently ebbing had tried to paint India as a foe to reduce the trend.
Indo-Canadian relations indeed hit a new low when Prime Minister Trudeau claimed India’s involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar who is designated a terrorist in India. Though bilateral relations are subject to occasional frictions, this is not the first time such tensions have flared up. Nijjar was the chief of separatist Khalistani Tiger Force (KTF). He was killed on June 18.this year.
Trudeau has an electoral game plan with an eye on Sikh votes. The Sikh community constitutes about two per cent of Canada’s population is a pointer that vote bank politics is no longer a phenomena confined to India.
Way back in 2015, when Trudeau appointed four Sikhs in his 30-member Cabinet, he boasted he had more Sikhs as his cabinet colleagues than Narendra Modi. It was a cool reception for Trudeau during his India trip of 2018 when instead of Prime Minister Modi, he was received at the airport by minister of state for agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
An effort to mend fences was made by Canada in 2018 in its Public Report to Terrorist Threat to Canada wherein Sikh extremism and Khalistan found mention for the first time. Yet Canada revised it next year removing mentions of Sikh extremism and Khalistan.
Canadian connection to the Khalistani cause dates back to decades as it was in 1982 in Vancouver, Surjan Singh Gill set up Khalistan government in exile. Issuing currency and passport complicated matters for the bilateral relations.
Refreshing memory, it can be recalled that Talwinder Singh Parmar accused of killing two police constables in Punjab was refused to be extradited in 1982 by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the father of the present incumbent. Investigation revealed Parmar having a hand in the bombing of Air India Kanishka in 1985 in which 331 people were killed. The distrust dates back to decades.
Khalistan movement in Canada waned during the regime headed by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Later between 2005 to 2015, Indo-Canadian relations improved when Conservative Party’s Stephen Harper headed his country. At the moment, an effort is on in Canada to sweep under the rug the endeavour to propagate violence against Indian diplomats. Trudeau’s reference to the “rule of law” is myopic.
Such rule did not prevail when the death of a former Indian prime minister was being brazenly celebrated by Khalistani Sikhs in Canada.. If it was condemned, it was not done widely. Trudeau highlights the plight of some separatists. It overlooks the state of those they had harmed.
At a time when reports point out that support for Khalistan movement in Canada is on a downslide, Indo-Canada diplomatic ties escalation needs urgent resolution. The bilateral relations cannot be poisoned by pandering to a small fringe. India has just suspended visa facilities for Canadian citizens to India. This is a big jolt to the Canadian businessmen as also tourists.
The current escalation needs to be paused immediately. Let the head honchos of the security service of both countries sit down and exchange notes. It will go a long way to separate fictions from facts. This is as much in Canada’s interest as it is that of India’s. The sooner the bilateral ties skate past thin ice and reach hard rocks, the better. (IPA Service)