What drove Justin Trudeau to so recklessly declare in the Canadian Parliament that India was behind the killing of notorious Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, cannot be said with any degree of certainty. Whether it was the cold reception he received in New Delhi when he came to attend the G-20 summit, or the forced overstay in New Delhi due to a snag in his aircraft, the fact is that Trudeau betrayed a lack of diplomatic tact and finesse by going public with mere allegations. Anyway, the tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats, stoppage of visas, travel advisories to citizens of each country, etc., should now give way to a cool consideration of the grave harm such things have done to the close and warm ties between the two democracies. Both need to walk back from the perilous course they have chosen in an ill-advised game of one-upmanship. Even if there is a tiniest of tiny iota of doubt about the India hand behind the murder of the Khalistani activist the onus lies with India to allay Canada’s apprehensions.
On the other hand, if Canada has substantive evidence of India’s involvement it should not hesitate to take the latter into confidence so that such ugly events can be avoided in future. A sizeable section of the Indian immigrants in Canada, who maintain close ties with the country of their origin, will hope to see an early end to this ugly exchange of hostilities between New Delhi and Ottawa. Though the two-way trade between the two countries is only slightly in favour of Canada, the latter is a big investor in the Indian financial markets as well. Such investments need to grow further. Elements in his own ruling Liberal Party have questioned Trudeau’s handling of the Nijjar affair. He treads on thin ground while failing to explain his inaction on repeated Indian entreaties for restraining the anti-India activities of a handful of Khalistani activists. Allowing the misuse of Canadian soil for fomenting secession against a friendly country ought to have been unacceptable to any Canadian government. Even after perpetrating a full-blown diplomatic row between the two countries, the wild outbursts of a so-called Khalistani leader warning Hindu immigrants in Canada to leave the country ought to have spurred Trudeau to put him behind bars for abusing the freedom of expression and rule of law.
Meanwhile, it is expected that US President Joe Biden will use his good offices to bring an early end to this bruising row between two of his closest partner countries. Whether or not Biden accepts India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the coming Republic Day parade ought not to prevent him from using his influence to ensure that normalcy is restored between India and Canada. Neither country stands to gain from a continuing exchange of vituperation. Also, the open row triggered by the murder of a Khalistani activist should serve as a reminder to all anti-India elements abroad that their actions can be counter-productive. Trudeau allowed himself to be bullied by anti-India elements. He should have shown more grit, more character. Now he must not aggravate matters further and move fast to restore normalcy between the two countries.