Tensions between India and Canada over the Khalistan issue are not new and have been escalating lately, straining their diplomatic relations. Canada, as we know, is home to the largest population of Sikhs abroad. More than 770,000 people reported their religion as Sikhism, about 2% of Canada's population. Even in 2019, the government designated April as Sikh Heritage Month. and therefore it is the country that is alleged of being soft towards Sikh terrorism.
No doubt that the Khalistan issue has surged globally and a section of Sikhs abroad may still harbor the idea of Khalistan. However, domestically in Punjab, peoples’ concerns are restricted majorly to farming woes, moving abroad (mostly to Canada), drug dealings etc.
So, let’s understand how Sikh separatist movement in Canada impacts politics in India.
Why India-Canada tensions?
Relations between India and Canada are strained by the allegation imposed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the government of India assassinated a Sikh independence activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, on Canadian soil. So, the tensions popped up after he was shot dead outside a gurdwara in the parking area in Canada’s Surrey.
Now, the question is why the Indian government is concerned about such allegations and who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar? Continue reading to explore.
Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar shot dead in Canada?
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a Khalistan Tiger Force chief alleged to have been promoting the violent agenda of Sikhs for justice in India. He was wanted in India under India’s Terrorist Act by the National Investigation Agency in a NIA case wherein it was alleged that a conspiracy was hatched by Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) operating under Nijjar, to kill a Hindu priest at Jalandhar.
Nijjar even had a cash reward on him for being caught. He was involved in several cases, including a 2007 movie theater bombing in Punjab and the 2009 murder of a Sikh Indian politician Rulda Singh. Even after repeated requests to the Canadian government, no action was taken against him.
What was the Khalistani movement?
As we know that in 1984, the clash between the Indian government & the Khalistanis broke out when Bhindranwale and his followers shot at the Golden Temple & fortified it. As a result, they were wiped out by the government in a mission called Operation Bluestar, wherein Bhindranwale and many of his followers were killed. In retaliation, PM Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her as she authorized the mission . Her murder led to riots in India, and thousands of Sikhs were killed.
To know more about Operation Blue Star & Khalistani movement, dig into this article.
What will be the impact of these tensions on India- Canada relations?
When it comes to the Khalistan issue, Canada-India relations have always been very alarming. For many years, India has been accusing Canada of harboring Sikh terrorists and neglecting their activities. With more than $13.7 billion in trade, India was Canada's 10th largest two-way merchandise trade partner in 2022. But, now the trade talks have been paused.
For example: An Air India flight from Montreal to New Delhi was bombed by Canada-based Sikh terrorists in 1985, killing many people, mostly Indian Hindus. However, most of the accused were acquitted after a Canadian investigation.
Several of Canada’s Western allies, including the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, have issued statements against such accusations. Let’s check them out and the Five Eyes alliance.
What is the Five Eyes alliance?
The Indian Government has reached out to its western allies on this Khalistan issue. This outreach has coincided with Canada’s attempt to get the support of the Five Eyes alliance on concerning the assassination of Khalistani leader Nijjar.
The Five Eyes alliance is an alliance comprising Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. These partner countries share a wide range of intelligence with one another in a unified multilateral arrangement.
The current scenario is that India is being sought after by the United States and other countries as a diplomatic counterbalance to China, leaving Canada, with a population of just 40 million, at a diplomatic disadvantage. As discussed above about the Five Eyes Alliance, let's check out their views on Trudeau's remark against India.
So, here's what these countries has to say. On one hand, USA’s Senior State Department official have urged India to cooperate with the investigation whereas a US expert has referred the incident "shameless and cynical action" and urged the US not to be part of it. On the other hand, the UK government stated that the "serious allegations" on India will not impact its ongoing trade negotiations with the country whereas Australia is monitoring the developments with their partners and will continue to do so.
There are many more developments to come which are highly unspeculated. So stay tuned with us!