Indo-Canada relations have hit a new low with India suspending visa service in Canada. It all began after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau publicly alleged a potential Indian government link in the day-light killing of a Khalistani separatist in Canada on 19th June 2023. As expected India retaliated in equally harsh words by calling Canada a safe-haven for terrorists, extremists and organized crime. The sparring continues. Khalistani militancy is quite acute in Canada. Now India’s patience is wearing thin. PM Modi is reported to have given Trudeau a dressing down for being soft on Khalistani separatists.
Sukhdool Singh Gill's death aggravates matter
To aggravate the matter, Sukhdool Singh Gill has been shot dead in Canada’s Winnipeg by unidentified assailants on Wednesday, 20th September 2023. Sukhdool was wanted in Punjab in various cases like extortion, attempt to murder and murder. He fled to Canada in 2017 and since been running crime racket from the soil of Canada. It is suspected that this murder is due to gang-rivalry between Sukhdool and Lawrence Bishnoi and Goldie Brar. Soon after the news of his murder became public, Bishnoi claimed responsibility for the act in a Facebook post.
It is more than clear that this time both the countries are in no mood to cool down and let the matter die a natural death. The original comments of Trudeau made on Monday were reiterated by him on Thursday. He said that his comments were not made lightly but with outmost seriousness. Not only this, he also reiterated his call for India to take the matter seriously and work with Canada to shed full transparency and ensure accountability.
History of Indo-Canada ties
This is precisely why this time it will be quite tough to mend the relationship. It should be recalled that Indo-Canada relations have witnessed many ups and downs in the last 50-odd years. Young India had good relations with democratic Canada which got a jolt in May 1974 when India denoted a nuclear device at Pokhran. However the 1980s saw large migrations to Canada that in due course became a powerful diaspora so much so that many Indians today are law-makers in Canada. Anita Anand was the defense minister of Canada just a couple of years back!
Many, not all, Indians in Canada are pro-Khalistani and they publicly celebrate the Sant Bhindranwale and his ideology. On 28th March, 2023, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Canada was vandalized and defaced with graffiti that expressed support for Khalistan. Recently the Khalistani sympathizers had defaced ‘Lakshmi Narayan Mandir’ in British Columbia province of Canada. In April 2023, the Swaminaryan temple too was vandalized with anti-India graffiti in Windsor in Canada’s Ontario province. In February 2023, the Ram Mandir in Canada’s Mississauga was vandalized.
Trudeau's political compulsion
One must understand the domestic politics of Canada to understand the current stand-off between India and Canada. Out of the total population of Canada which is 3.8 crore, Indians are a whopping 13 lakhs. These are citizens of Canada which in political terms means voters who matter a lot in competitive elections. Let us remember that Trudeau is heading a minority government which is dependent on the support of the New Democratic Party [NDP] headed by Jagmeet Singh Jimmy Dhaliwal, a known Khalistani symphathiser. In the Canadian federal elections held in October 2019, the ruling Liberal Party won 157 seats in the house of 338 members and the NDP won 24 seats. A party needs support of a minimum 170 law-makers to form government. Trudeau had to form a minority government with the support of the NDP. This should explain Trudeau’s soft approach towards Khalistani supporters and his failure to take tough action against them.
More often than not, this political reality shapes Canada’s foreign policy, especially its stand on Khalistani supporters. Here all main political parties of Canada sail in the same boat. The Conservatives as well as the Liberals have pampered the anti-India elements for quite some time. It is high time this should change.
India strongly pursuing diaspora politics
In 21st century, India has been aggressively pursuing diaspora politics. In almost all foreign trips Modi ensures a meeting with diaspora groups in the host country. These groups are regularly appealed to invest in India. This indeed adds to India’s leverage with many countries like USA and UK. And yet India must not forget that Canada is an important member of G-7. It not only shares table with USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan; it also shares intelligence with the Five Eyes group which has USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand. The latest diplomatic stand-off has put these countries in a tight spot. They don’t want to be forced into a situation where they have to choose between the two. No wonder their reactions have been measured and nuanced. India and Canada should dial down their rhetoric as quickly as possible because both need each other in various international fora.
It is time Indian diplomacy talks to Western countries like USA, UK that have a large number of Khalistani supporters. These Western countries should not use Khalistani extremists as leverage against India.