Murder, He Wrote: The Canada-India Standoff


“Whatever Justin Trudeau has in his possession is a smoking gun. Because you’re going after major democratic ally, it’s a very important partner for the west in the Indo-Pacific to counter China in that region. India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world…” These observations were articulated by Mumbai-based Indian journalist Rupa Subramunium during an episode of NDTV on September 22nd, 2023. Her viewpoint can be deciphered thus: owing to India’s democratic disposition, its rapid economic ascendancy, its substantial trade interactions with the West, and its role as a Western partner countering Chinese influence in the Pacific, it is posited that India holds the prerogative to undertake targeted actions wherever it deems necessary.

In the Indian media, there is a pervasive chorus of criticism directed at the Canadian Prime Minister for his allegations of Indian complicity in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent figure in the Khalistan movement. This tragic incident occurred on the 18th of June, 2023, in the vicinity of a gurdwara’s parking facility in Surrey, a suburban enclave within British Columbia, Canada.

In my previous article, I underscored India’s enduring significance to the United States. American intent never harbored the usage of weaponry furnished to Pakistan against India. Deliberate steps were taken to ensure that Pakistan did not inflict excessive harm upon India, both within the realm of diplomacy, such as the United Nations Security Council’s resolutions on Kashmir, and on the battlefield during the wars. The United States, with patience, observed India’s alignment with the USSR during the Cold War, subsequently steering Pakistan towards engagement on the Western front during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and later in the War on Terror, rather than the volatile Eastern border with India. Following the conclusion of the Cold War, India commenced a trajectory toward the West, characterized by economic liberalization, a divergence from the Soviet-style socialism that prevailed during the post-independence era under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru.

In recent times, the West and the United States, in particular, have not raised objections to India’s clandestine provision of Russian oil in the black market. This Indian manoeuvre facilitated the Russians with the financial resources they required for their involvement in the Ukraine conflict, concurrently contributing to India’s rapid economic expansion over the preceding years. An obvious manifestation of the West’s deliberate disregard for this circumstance transpired during the recent G20 summit in New Delhi, where discussions pertaining to the Ukraine conflict were conspicuously absent.

Contrary to Canadian expectations, both the American and British governments have embraced a nebulous stance concerning the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. According to BBC, the most pronounced silence emanated from Canada’s southern neighbor, the United States. While the two nations share a close alliance, the US refrained from voicing its outrage on Canada’s behalf. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed “deep concern” over the allegations levelled by the Canadian Prime Minister regarding the involvement of the Indian government in the murder of a Sikh activist on Canadian soil. Preceding this, a high-ranking member of the US administration vehemently denied any reluctance on the part of the US to publicly support Canada in this regard. The UK Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, articulated that his nation takes the proclamations made by Canada with utmost gravity, a sentiment echoed by Australia, using nearly identical phrasing.

Simultaneously, we discern words of caution from the Canadian ambassador to the United States, Bob Rae, who opines, “it would be a mistake to think that this is suddenly going to become a huge global issue when in reality it is an issue that affects us.” It doesn’t require Aristotle’s wisdom to figure out how this entire scenario shall play out in the next few weeks. The language and tenor adopted by the key Western powers undeniably convey that, whatever unfolds in the impending days, the West will refrain from adopting an overtly confrontational posture towards India. Conceivably, behind-the-scenes diplomacy may serve to assuage the situation.

Certainly, Rupa Subramunium possessed a calculated strategy underpinning her discourse on NDTV.

However, amidst these deliberations, an unanswered question lingers: why did the assassination of a Khalistan leader become imperative at this juncture—a movement purportedly suppressed and extinguished through Operation Blue Star, orchestrated by the government of Indira Gandhi in 1984?

In 2016, during a visit to a gurdwara in Glasgow, UK, I engaged in a brief dialogue with a Sikh individual. When I alluded to the widely discussed Green Revolution in India, he retorted, “What revolution are you referencing? They have ensnared our youth in the throes of drug and alcohol addiction. We have no voice, and our grievances are ignored.” When the farmers from Indian Punjab embarked on their “Delhi Chalo” March in 2020, in protest against the central government’s introduction of what they termed “black laws,” I could hark back to the sentiments conveyed by that Sikh gentleman in Glasgow a few years prior.

Evidently, something of momentous import is in the offing.

In 2022, I conducted an interview with Gurcharan Singh, a Khalistan leader based in London. Gurcharan Singh expounded extensively on how the hardline, Hindu-dominated BJP was targeting all religious minorities in India, not just Muslims. Gurcharan asserted that, despite the events of 1984, the aspiration for an autonomous Sikh state had endured over the years, particularly in Canada and the UK, both nations having significant Sikh populations. Following Operation Blue Star, many Khalistan leaders had sought refuge in these countries, a campaign that also witnessed the desecration of the Golden Temple, a revered Sikh site in Amritsar. Those sins of the Sikhs demanding freedom where not forgotten, as one could witness in 2020, when the chants of Sikh farmers seeking their rights were also denigrated as separatist rhetoric by Hindu extremists.

The world’s indifference to the annulment of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution and the consequent annexation of Kashmir, coupled with the discriminatory treatment meted out to Muslims across various facets of life in India, have emboldened the Modi government to pursue other objectives as well, including quelling Khalistan voices outside the Indian borders. This situation also lays bare the true hue of Indian democracy, wherein articulating one’s grievances becomes a formidable challenge. The West may once again hesitate to confront India over its actions; nevertheless, this issue presents them with a predicament. Unlike prior circumstances linked to Muslims, which could swiftly be intertwined with terrorism and jihad, this time, the matter assumes a distinct complexion.

If naught else, the present scenario has thrust the issue of Khalistan back into the global spotlight.__Courtesy The Friday Times