How India-Canada ties descended into a public feud

India's Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi (R) and his Canada counterpart Justin Trudeau shake hands during a bilateral meeting after the G20 Summit in New Delhi on September 10, 2023.shabby pictures

Years of close ties between Canada and India, two important strategic partners on business and surveillance, could be derailed by the escalating dispute over the death of a Sikh secessionist head.

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Monday that Canada was looking into” reliable allegations” regarding the possible involvement of Indian government agencies in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia, the rift came to light.

India reacted angrily, saying it” completely rejected” the accusations and referred to them as” absurd.” Both have expelled one of the other’s ambassadors, so it is unclear how they will then retreat from the danger.

The nations were making headway toward signing a free trade agreement that had been in the works for some time only recently. Now that negotiations have been put on hold, Canada’s upcoming industry mission to India has been postponed.

How did things get to this place, then?

Important tips from the current G20 summit that Delhi hosted included Mr. Trudeau’s strained( and brief ) meeting with Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi. Then, after his planes developed a complex issue, he was embarrassed to have to wait in Delhi for an additional two days before being able to take off.

Security personnel stand guard in front of the High Commission of Canada in New Delhi on September 19, 2023.

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There was no cutting of terms after the two frontrunners met. According to Mr. Trudeau, Canada will often uphold” freedom of expression” while waging war on anger.

The Indian government expressed” strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada ,” whom it accused of” promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats ,” in an uncharacteristically sharp statement.

The allusion is made in reference to calls for Khalistan, or a separate country for Sikhs, made by hindu activists in Canada. Millions of Indians experience painful memories as a result of this need, particularly in northern Punjab position, where Sikhs make up the majority of the populace( outside of Punjab, Canada has the highest concentration of SKSs in the world ).

In India, the need for Khalistan reached its peak in the 1980s when a forcible military uprising was put down, killing thousands of people. The activity is no longer well-known in Punjab, and all major American political parties outspokenly oppose it.

However, some members of the Sikh community in nations like Canada, Australia, and the UK are also vocal in their names for Khalistan. Delhi has reacted angrily to Hindu activists’ presentations for and polls on Khalistan in these nations, which are not prohibited it but are a major source of annoyance for India.

Police officers intervene a conflict as Pro-Khalistan supporters gather for a demonstration in front of the Consulate General of India in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 8, 2023. Pro-India counter protestors also gathered outside the Indian Consulate for a counter protest.

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Three pro-Khalistan activists passed away in rapid succession in various countries earlier this year, drawing more attention to the issue on a global scale.

Paramjit Singh Panjwar, the commander of the Khalistan Commando Force who India designated a criminal, was shot dead in Pakistan in May; his assailants have not yet been identified.

Avtar Singh Khanda, the alleged leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force in the UK, passed away in a clinic on June 15th. Following a protest in London where protesters tore down the American flag at the ambassador of the nation, Khanda was detained in March. However, the dying” was not deemed to be cautious ,” according to a UK police director.

Nijjar was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia three days after he passed away; this crime has now prompted Canada to take an outspoken stance against an influential ally.

Relations between the two have endured past strains; in 1974 and 1998, Canada reacted angrily to American nuclear tests, and in 2005, after two American Sikhs were found not guilty of a dangerous Air India attack, India expressed its sorrow.
With the exception of the Khalistan matter, relations between the two countries have generally been great. They share a lot in common, including” a shared tradition of democracy and diversity” and, as Canada puts it,” an international program based on rules.”

They belong to the G20’s top 20 markets and are both Commonwealth nations. Canada sees India as a counterbalance to China and wants to expand its influence in Asia.

When Canada’s Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly visited Delhi in January, she made a reference to the Indo-Pacific strategy report of her nation, which made clear links to Chinese” aggressive” measures in the area. In the shared statement, Delhi did not mention any pro-Khalistan organizations.

The nations have solid trade ties in addition to politics.

With bilateral trade in goods reaching$ 11.9 billion in 2022, up 56 % from the previous year, India was Canada’s tenth-largest trading partner. Additionally, they came very close to signing the deal arrangement that has since been put on hold.

Therefore, there is undoubtedly a lot at stake for both nations.

” I do believe that this serves as a lesson to us all that India’s near ties to American partners are not sacred. This is a wake-up contact that India, while not an aligned person, values its ties to the Global South and, most definitely, its relations with the West. However, Michael Kugelman, chairman of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center think-tank in Washington, asserts that this does not imply that it will be shielded from the possibility of a significant problems in connections.

India's Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi (R) shakes hands with Hadrien Trudeau (C-bottom), the youngest son of Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (2nd R) and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau (3rd L), as their other children Ella-Grace (2nd L) and Xavier (L) look on, while attending a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on February 23, 2018.

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S Jaishankar, the foreign minister of India, stated earlier this year that” vote bank compulsion”— a reference to the support Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party receives from Sikhs — has been the driving force behind the Canadian response to Khalistan. The New Democratic Party ( NDP ), which is led by Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh himself, also supports Mr. Trudeau’s minority government.

Some Indian experts concur with this assessment.

The Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies’ father, Chintamani Mahapatra, claims that Mr. Trudeau’s remarks on the Khalistan problem are” contentious.”

He” ignores the sentiments of the larger Indo-Canadian community, which includes the Canadian Sikhs ,” and seems to be biased against the Khalistanis. Had he prefer that Quebec separatists receive outside help? Of course not ,” he responds, adding that Mr. Trudeau has made the tension between India and Canada worse.

” Canada does not jeopardize its relations with other nations in the name of democracy, human rights, and freedom of speech.”

However, Avinash Paliwal, a professor of politics and international studies at SOAS University of London, asserts that the rapid escalation might not be the result of purely domestic pressures.

He adds that it’s possible that Mr. Trudeau first tried to bring up the issue through different programs.” If your intelligence organizations have gathered credible information that another country, even if it is an ally, was involved in a secret operation on your land, you’re bound to act on that.”

India claimed that Mr. Trudeau did bring up the accusation with President Modi, but he was given little consideration.

Another home politicians, including Pierre Poilievre, the main opposition leader, have backed the Canadian prime minister. The US and the UK have both responded, with the US stating that they are” deeply concerned” by the allegations and” in close touch” with Canada regarding the matter.

Experts claim that while Western nations view India as essential to thwart China’s effect, there is also growing concern about the way Mr. Modi is taking Indian politics. Critics claim attacks on minorities have increased since his administration took office, among other human rights issues.

Beijing and Moscow, which are happy to see a” cleft between India and the West ,” will also closely monitor the improvements, according to Mr. Paliwal. He does, however, add that this would not” derail the strategic story” or” force Washington to ignore India.”

According to Mr. Kugelman, China and Russia may view the conflict separately.

Beijing does not want to see India develop closer ties with like-minded nations that are eager to retaliate against China. Therefore, this could be seen as a strategic advantage for Beijing in that respect. He claims that Russia might be perfectly content to see Canada sunk in this issue.

However, a conflict between India and Canada will include political repercussions in the near future. Canada may pose a unique challenge to European governments, particularly the UK and Australia, if it keeps making vehement comments and then accuses India immediately.

The West’s support for Delhi at the current G20 conference is unmistakable proof that it wants India to be a strong counterbalance to China.

But if it gets to the point where they have to decide between India and Canada, it will be a proper pain for them. The UK, the US, and Australia have all made determined claims thus much.

Is India and Canada, however, still resolve their differences to prevent a political conflict for the West?

While the Khalistan problem may have an immediate impact on economic cooperation, according to Mr. Mahapatra, it is unlikely to end long-term relationships between the nations. Additionally, he advises against” extreme measures ,” particularly from Canada.

You don’t need a speech if you’re extending an invitation to the diplomat. He claims that instead of fight, like issues should be resolved through speech and diplomacy.

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