Like his boyish good looks the politics of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, seem a bit raw, a bit immature. Otherwise, he would not have driven a coach and four so brazenly into the already faltering Indo-Canadian relationship. Soon after his return home from India after attending the G-20 summit, where he received a cold reception, Trudeau told the House of Commons that the “Canadian security agencies have been pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar”. The timing of the statement was puzzling. Besides, he was under no obligation to refer to “credible allegations” — not credible evidence, mind you — about a killing that took place on June 18, 2023. Having waited three long months for the investigations to unravel the mystery — if any — behind the murder of a former plumber who had entered Canada on a false passport and then acquired Canadian citizenship by staging a marriage with a local woman, he could as well have waited for a few more weeks for the investigators to conclude their work before going public with what were mere allegations, bazaar rumours, gossip et al. After all, Nijjar had been co-opted by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence to revive the moribund Khalistan movement and, as a result, become the head of the so-called Khalistan Tiger Force. There was more noise than substance in the shrill campaign. Nijjar, on whose head India had placed a reward of Rs 10 lakh and proclaimed him to be a terrorist, and some of his equally compromised colleagues in Canada, the UK and the UK took to electronic devices to bewail about Khalistan.
A very substantial portion of the over seven-lakh-odd Canadian Sikhs paid no heed to the secessionist noises the commissioned ISI agents made to distract the hard-working community from its pursuit of economic well-being of self and their families back home. But occasionally they would attract media attention by indulging in reckless acts such as taking the Indian flag down at the Indian mission in London or taking out a float through the streets of Bramptom, a Sikh-dominated town in Ontario, Canada, which celebrated the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Earlier a handful of Khalistani activists had defaced the frontage of the Indian consulate in San Francisco. The point is that though minuscule in numbers they had become a nuisance, flooding with electronic messages Punjab and other Indians, ranting against the Indian State. Of late, they had talked of a so-called referendum on the creation of Khalistan. No sovereign country worth its salt would tolerate a friendly nation playing host to such mischievous elements openly preaching secession from its soil. Despite repeated protests for over a decade against the abuse of freedom by the Khalistani elements, the Trudeau government did precious little. Admittedly, Trudeau ran a minority government and was hostage to a Sikh-dominated party which lent support from outside. The leader of this party, a Sikh, had been pressing the Trudeau government to probe the “foreign” hand in Nijjar’s killing. It is notable that after listing Sikh extremism as a threat to Canada in a ruling party document in 2018, under pressure from the Sikh extremists the reference was deleted from the following year’s report.
The point is that Trudeau has jeopardised long-standing Indo-Canadian ties for the sake of his own political survival. Though fresh elections are not due till 2026, Trudeau’s popularity ratings are at a historic low, with over 60% of the respondents disapproving of his rule. Maybe the precipitate expulsion of an Indian diplomat was Trudeau’s gambit to play the nationalist card, but according to reports he has won no sympathy for his drastic and uncalled-for action against a country which is generally perceived to be an integral part of the larger global democratic alliance. Given Modi’s no-nonsense approach to national security, the tit-for-tat expulsion of a Canadian diplomat was only to be expected. The suspension of trade talks too was not surprising. It is notable that close allies of Canada such as the US, UK, New Zealand and Australia have refused to weigh in its favour after its abrupt decision to dignify mere allegations as credible evidence and expel an Indian diplomat. Such a childish response to a problem which need not have become one, had Trudeau shown the good sense to rein in the aggressive Sikh secessionists operating in his country, will hurt Indo-Canadian economic and social ties. Saner elements on both sides need to withdraw from the brink and try and inject sanity into the relationship. The onus to do so of course lies on Trudeau who should draw a line before his Sikh supporters in parliament beyond which he would not cross even if it meant the fall of his government. Once he takes this courageous approach, the Sikh separatists will back off, especially when the Opposition Conservatives have little use for them.