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India’s Tit-For-Tat Move After Canada’s Expulsion Of Indian Diplomat; Relations Turn Sour

The Canadian allegations, if proved right, could damage India’s reputation but so far nothing is available in public to back the claim. The US and other G7 members are watching with concern.

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau
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The expulsion of an Indian diplomat from its mission in Ottawa on Monday has brought to a head the ongoing feud over Khalistan that has again resurfaced and marred ties between India and Canada. The diplomat was asked to leave on what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said were “credible allegations” that Indian agents were behind the killing of a Canadian Sikh Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistan activist in June. India has rejected such allegations calling them “absurd and motivated”, as well as  “unsubstantial” and called out the Trudeau government for “inaction” against Khalistan terror groups. Expectedly, India has ordered a tit-for-tat expulsion of a senior Canadian diplomat from Delhi. The MEA did not say whether the Canadian diplomat was from the intelligence agency.
 
Will this have an effect on India’s image abroad, because what Prime Minister Trudeau has said is damaging to New Delhi’s reputation. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau told the House of Commons, according to reports from the Canadian press.

The White House has weighed in by saying it is “deeply concerned” at the allegations according to AP. It was waiting for the investigation to conclude. ”We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice,” AP added.

Ambassador K.C.Singh said that it was too early to say what this could do to India’s image. Much would depend on what the final investigative report would reveal. But he also added, “Not sure Trudeau has a smoking gun.” The rest of the G7 countries would also, like the US, wait till the final investigations are over. If true it would do irreparable harm to India’s image.

At the heart of the downturn in India-Canada ties is the huge Sikh population that supports Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada. The Khalistan movement of the late 1970s and early 80s was a violent insurrection, with Sikhs asking for a separate homeland. It was a time when Bhrindanwale took refuge in the Golden Temple and the Indian Army had to go in to take him out. Operation Blue Star was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. Those violent days are long past and the demand for Khalistan finds little traction in Punjab.

Yet the idea of Khalistan lives outside the country. The Sikh diaspora cut off from the reality of Punjab continues to fan the idea of a state founded on religion. This is not to say that all Sikhs living abroad believe in Khalistan, a few do. However, numbers can be mobilised the minute something happens back home in Punjab. It could be an arrest, a minor protest or a major issue like the farmers' protests. Sikhs living abroad get deeply emotional whenever they perceive, the real or imagined plight of the people of Punjab. The farmer’s agitation in Punjab had activated many of the Khalistan groups operating from Canada, Britain and the US. Activists abroad never let go of an opportunity to revive the dying movement.

Justin Trudeau is having a tough political ride at the moment. His popularity is plummeting and Indians see his support for Khalistan extremists to be linked with his support base. How far that is true is hard to say, much depends on the proof the Canadian authorities have to support their claim of an Indian government link.

“Justin Trudeau has been in trouble for some time now. He is anticipating that he may not last very long as PM of Canada. So, he has been trying to divert domestic attention to other issues," former diplomat Rajiv Dogra said. It is true that Trudeau’s approval rate is going down drastically. The latest poll number by the Angus Reid Institute shows that the prime minister has an approval rating of just 33 per cent, against a disapproval rating of 63 per cent. The drop is mainly due to unaffordable housing and the general rise in prices.
Ambassador Dogra went on to add that support for Khalistan is “genetic” in the Trudeau family. He recalled that when his father Pierre Trudeau was prime minister back in the 1980s. On June 23, 1985, an Air India flight from Toronto to London was bombed and exploded killing 329 people aboard. The Khalistan terror group were suspected perpetrators. According to Dogra, the senior Trudeau was told about it but failed to take action. However, the enquiry report concluded that the turf war between the different intelligence agencies of Canada resulted in a failure to take action.
 
“The Sikh Press Association welcomes Canada’s acknowledgement of what countless Sikh groups already knew,” said spokesperson Jasveer Singh. “We hope this leads to stronger investigations into other types of Indian interference in Canada and there is also an examination into how the assassination was allowed to happen under the authorities’ watch.”

Relations between India and Canada have been under strain since the farmers' agitation. Indian diplomats in Canada, Australia, the US and the UK have time and again had to face demonstrations by pro-Khalistan Sikhs living in those countries. New Delhi has often reminded the Canadian government that it was duty-bound to act against terror groups operating from its soil to stir disturbances in Punjab.

Canada has for now called off talks on a free-trade agreement with India earlier in September. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has accused Canada of not acting against Sikh terror groups.

As a rule, friendly countries do not reveal the name of the diplomat or his work in the host country. But the Canadian press has named the officer and said he is from India’s Research and Analysis Wing. It is accepted international practice for all missions to have one officer from a country’s spy agency posted as a diplomat, with full knowledge of the host government, however, this is not publicly revealed. Yet many countries including the US and Russia have often pinpointed the expelled diplomat as a spy for the KGB or the CIA as the case may be.

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