India-Canada relations hit all time low after the Canadian Prime Minister Justine Trudeau accused the Indian government in the involvement of the recent assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh activist living in Canada for his support of an independent state in India’s northern province. The Indian government had designated Nijjar as a terrorist.
Canada is home to a thriving Sikh population where they even hold important government office like Harjit Singh Sajjan, minister of emergency preparedness etc. As such, the assassination of a prominent activist like Hardeep Singh has triggered a wave of tensions between India and Canada. Sikh are a minority community in India, making 2% of total Indian population. Hardeep’s assassination and possible involvement of Indian government in facilitating the whole incident has sparked a diplomatic crisis between India and Canada, with both states expelling the top diplomats from their respective offices. The tense relations between both states were observed during G-20 summit when Prime Minister Modi showed concern over Canada’s sheltering of Sikh separatists to which Prime Minister Trudeau responded that Canada respects the Sikh people’s right of self-determination and adherence to rule based international order.
The current turmoil of diplomatic tensions between India and Canada is deeply rooted in this Khlaistan activism. Hardeep Singh migrated to Canada in late end of 20th century and was awarded citizenship in 2007. He was a prominent figure for his community and president of Guru Nank Singh Gurudwara in British Columbia. Despite that he had maintained a strict non-violent activism and garner support for the right of self-determination for his people in India, the government of India had announced a $1.2 million dollars award for any information pertaining to his involvement in Jalandhar conspiracy to kill a hindu priest. Hardeep was also accused by the Indian government for facilitating Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), an armed militant group demanding separation. The demand for Khalistan gained momentum in 1980’s when Indian government launched a state wide crack-down against Sikh separatists. The violence ensued when Indian forces broke in the golden temple, the holiest place for Sikh religion, to root out militias taking refuge there. This operation was ordered by then Indian Prime minister Indira Gandhi. After two weeks of this incident, she was shot dead by her own security personnel who were Sikhs. Her death led to the statewide protests and violent clashes. The ensuing chaos and violence resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, majority Sikhs as government believed it was an act of revenge for the Golden temple incident. Since then, India violently persecuted any Sikh group demanding a separate homeland. Canadian Sikh diaspora maintained their demand and support for the community back in India and rally up against the persecution by the Indian state.
Prime Minister Trudeau and Modi met at the G-20 summit in New Delhi 2 few weeks ago where both sides reiterated their stance on the matter of recent protest prompted by Hardeep’s assassination. India criticised Canada for permitting a float in a parade commemorating the 1984 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, which was seen as glorification of violence by Sikh separatists. In response to Indian allegation, Prime Minister Trudeau asserted that Canada will always defend its citizens rights to freedom of expression and peaceful protest. During his speech to the house of commons on Monday, 18 September, Trudeau said that security agencies are actively looking into allegations that there may have been a connection between the murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar and operatives of the Indian government. This was the first time when a western leader officially accused Indian government involvement in their involvement in other sovereign territories. Trudeau also pushed their allies towards a common joint statement to condemn the Indian involvement in the killing of Canadian citizen. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves”.
The alleged involvement of Indian government in Hardeep’s assassination also highlights the extreme end of Modi led Hindutva regime that curb any attempts of criticism against their agenda. The persecution of Kashmiri people in Indian Occupied Kashmir is also a well recorded phenomenon with various United Nations resolution prompting India to demilitarize the region and hold the plebiscite according to International Law. Despite that, India not only increased the violent measures in Occupied Kashmir, they also abolished its autonomous status and put the whole region in semi military lockdown. Indian involvement in Pakistan’s internal affairs and stirring up violent tensions in the region is another example of its involvement in another state’s sovereignty. Cases of Kalboshan Yadev and Abhinandan highlights how India eagerly intervenes in another state’s territory with no regards to consequences. A “missile misfire” previous year in march which was nuclear-capable into Pakistan indicates that Indian government is becoming used to its accidental adventurism. In response to international query regarding the incident, of whether India is intending to start a nuclear war, Indian officials brushed aside the whole fiasco as a “technical fault” over routine equipment maintenance. The proliferation of such incidents with other sovereign states is marked with the rise of right-wing extremist group in India. Bhartiya Janta Party and its state led ideology of “Hindutva” has sparked up many controversies. Showing parts of other states’ territories in its official map mural placed in its new parliament building, clashes with China over Ladakh, harassing international academics over criticism of their extremist policies has become the new norm of India’s politics.
After Canda expelled Indian officials and pushed towards a joint collaborative investigation into the assassination of Hardeep Singh, India followed suit and expelled more than 10 senior Canadian diplomat and halted any bilateral transactions with Canada. Canada also put on hold their joint trade mission to India. This is also not the first time a Sikh separatist leader was put to bullet. Another Khalistan supporter, Sukhdool Singh who was living in India, was killed on September 20. These events indicate strong Indian foothold into Canada where they can assassinate anyone in Canadian soil, undermining the Sovereign authority of that state. Pakistan’s foreign office also issued a statement over the Canada’s accusation of India. “We are not surprised over Canada’s allegations,” Foreign Secretary Syrus Qazi told journalists at a Tuesday night briefing in New York. “We know the nature and the mode of behavior of our eastern neighbor.” India’s impetuous actions into foreign territories have become a source of attrition with many states not just with its immediate neighbor but in western hemisphere as well to which India believe they can avoid any responsibility due to their geostrategic alliance with United States to counter China. While the whole notion is remained untested as this is the first time a western power has taken a serious notice of India’s illegal and provoking attempts to stir up internal turmoil in foreign territories.