By K Raveendran
The pace at which the India-Canada diplomatic row is deteriorating, manifesting in tit for tat diplomatic expulsions, suggests that Khalistan activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing may be an action replay of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi-born critic of the Saudi royal family, particularly crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, which soured US-Saudi relations even more than the alleged involvement of Saudi elements in the dastardly 11/9 terrorist attack against America.
Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018 reportedly for obtaining documents relating to his proposed marriage to fiancée Hatice Cengiz, who lived in Turkey. But the leading Saudi journalist never emerged out of the consulate. The US Central Intelligence Agency arrived at the conclusion that Khashoggi was murdered at the instance of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, but the Trump administration sat over the report as ‘classified’. Two years later, however, the report was declassified, when its contents became public. But the final report, when published, omitted bin Salman’s name.
When president Joe Biden assumed office, he refused to deal with the Saudi Crown Prince for as long as 18 months, although that latter had become the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia and took complete charge of Saudi affairs, giving them a positive and rather progressive turn, including a dose of religious reforms in the otherwise most conservative Saudi traditions and culture. Mohammed bin Salman even emerged as the liberator of Saudi women, who now enjoy unthinkable rights and privileges in the traditional Saudi society.
It was only in the wake of US plan to counter Russia’s Putin in the aftermath of the Ukraine war that Biden changed his approach towards the crown prince. Ahead of Biden’s so-called ‘pilgrimage’ to Saudi Arabia, the US decided to grant immunity to the crown prince, which made the president’s engagements with Mohammed bin Salman possible. Although the decision took care of the immediate diplomatic concerns, there is still suspicion about the crown prince’s role in the ace journalist’s assassination. A court in the US, where Khashoggi’s fiancée filed a petition, is yet to declare its verdict in the case.
The Indian government had for long designated Hardeep Singh Nijjar as a terrorist, but the Khalistani activist had been carrying on relentlessly in Canada. New Delhi had even announced a cash reward on his head. The man was shot dead outside a gurdwara in a Vancouver suburb on June 18. The killing led to protests outside the Indian consulate in Vancouver, with protesters alleging the involvement of foreign hands. The Canadian authorities had come to the conclusion that the killing may have been the result of rivalries between separatist groupings in the country.
But thanks to developments in Canadian politics, which saw prime minister Justin Trudeau’s ratings plummet, the murder has assumed additional political importance. Making up nearly 2 percent of the total population, Sikhs are a prominent vote bank in Canadian politics and Trudeau’s party has been nurturing the community for its electoral value. This soft approach has encouraged Canada’s Khalistani elements to step up their operations, which also extend to other countries such as the UK and Australia.
The Indian government has accused of Khalistanis of randomly picking up Hindu temples in Canada to vandalise and disfigure them with pro-Khalistan graffiti. Similarly, in March this year, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa was attacked by the separatist elements, in incidents similar to those that have taken place in London and other places, where the Indian flag had been pulled down on a number of occasions. New Delhi has been urging Canada and other government to take action against such offences, but has been unhappy with the response from the authorities.
It turns out that when Trudeau came to Delhi for the G20 summit, he had tried to drum up support for the stand that the Khalistani separatist’s murder amounted to a violation of his country’s sovereignty, but the campaign did not elicit any positive response, which forced him to soft pedal. But he did raise the matter with prime minister Modi, who apparently made light work of it.
When back home, however, Trudeau escalated the issue by hinting at a role for India in Nijjar’s murder and declaring that any involvement of a foreign government was not unacceptable, which drew strong rebuttal from the Indian side, triggering a diplomatic row, the ending of which is not clear yet. From the way developments are overtaking each other, it appears that things are headed for a lot more deterioration. (IPA Service)