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The Khalistan shadow on India-Canada Ties

  • 21 Sep 2023
  • 9 min read

For Prelims: The Khalistan shadow on India-Canada Ties, Khalistani Movements, Operation Blue Star (1984), Sikh extremism, Redicalism.

For Mains: The Khalistan shadow on India-Canada ties, its Implication on Bilateral Relations.

Source: IE

Why in News?

Recently, the tensions between India and Canada escalated when the Canadian Prime Minister alleged Indian involvement in the killing of a Khalistani Leader designated as a terrorist by India, in Surrey in June 2023.

  • India rejected these allegations and accused Canada of sheltering Khalistani Extremists.

What is the Khalistan Movement?

  • The Khalistan movement is a fight for a separate, sovereign Sikh state in present day Punjab (both India and Pakistan).
  • The demand has resurfaced many times, most prominently during a violent insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s which paralysed Punjab for over a decade.
  • The movement was crushed in India following Operation Blue Star (1984) and Operation Black Thunder (1986 and 1988), but it continues to evoke sympathy and support among sections of the Sikh population, especially in the Sikh diaspora in countries such as Canada, the UK, and Australia.

What are the Recent Anti-India Activities in Canada?

  • Recent Anti-India Activities:
    • Operation Bluestar Anniversary Parade (June 2023): In Brampton, Ontario, a parade seemed to celebrate the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, displaying a blood-stained figure and advocating revenge for the attack on Darbar Sahib.
    • Pro-Khalistan Referendum (2022): Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a pro-Khalistan organization, conducted a so-called "referendum" on Khalistan in Brampton, claiming significant support.
    • Sanjh Savera Magazine (2002): In 2002, the Toronto-based Punjabi-language weekly Sanjh Savera greeted Indira Gandhi's death anniversary with a cover illustration celebrating her murder, glorifying those responsible.
    • The magazine received government advertisements and is now a prominent daily newspaper in Canada.
  • Indian Concerns Over such Activities:
    • Indian diplomats based in Canada have on numerous occasions said that Canada’s failure to tackle "Sikh extremism", and the constant harassment of Indian diplomats and officials by Khalistanis, is a major foreign policy stress point.
    • The Indian Prime Minister (PM) raised strong concerns about Sikh protests in Canada with the Canadian PM on the sidelines of a G20 summit in New Delhi.
    • Canada has paused talks on a proposed trade treaty with India.

How will Khalistan Radicalism Impact India-Canada Relations?

  • Strained Diplomatic Relations:
    • The allegations and counter-allegations can strain diplomatic ties, affecting the overall relationship between the two nations.
    • Trust and confidence may be eroded, making it difficult to collaborate on various bilateral and international issues.
  • Security Implications for India:
    • The Khalistan movement is considered a security threat to India’s Sovereignty getting grounds in Foreign Countries.
      • In April 2023, India arrested a Sikh separatist Leader for allegedly reviving calls for Khalistan, sparking fears of new violence in Punjab.
    • Earlier in 2023, India hit out at Canada for allowing a float in a parade depicting the assassination of Indira Gandhi, perceiving this to be a glorification of Sikh separatist violence.
      • It is also concerning for India about frequent demonstrations and vandalism by Sikh separatists and their supporters at Indian diplomatic missions in Canada, Britain, the U.S. and Australia causing threat to Indian Sovereignty and Integrity.
  • Impact on Trade and Economy:
    • Trade relations might suffer as the accusations could affect business partnerships and investment flows between India and Canada.
    • Businesses may exercise caution or reassess their engagement due to the heightened political tension.
      • India-Canada bilateral trade in goods reached approximately USD 8.2 billion in 2022, showing a 25% growth compared to 2021.
      • The services sector was emphasised as a significant contributor to the bilateral relationship, with bilateral services trade valued at around USD 6.6 billion in 2022.
  • Reduced Cooperation on Key Issues:
    • Cooperation on critical global challenges such as climate change, counter-terrorism, and international security might be adversely impacted.
    • Both countries may find it challenging to align their positions and work together effectively on these shared concerns.
  • Potential Travel and People-to-People Impact:
    • The escalating tensions could affect travel and interactions between Indian and Canadian citizens, making it more cumbersome or less appealing to travel to each other's countries.
  • Reassessment of Immigration Policies:
    • Canada may review or tighten its immigration policies, especially concerning individuals associated with Khalistani separatism, in response to India's concerns about sheltering such elements.
  • Long-Term Bilateral Cooperation:
    • The recent tensions could have a lasting effect on long-term bilateral cooperation and partnerships.
    • Rebuilding trust and reestablishing a constructive relationship might require substantial efforts and time.
      • India established diplomatic relations with Canada in 1947. India and Canada have a long-standing bilateral relationship based on shared democratic values, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi religious nature of two societies and strong people-to-people contacts.

What is the History of Khalistan Movement and Terrorism in Canada?

  • Early Khalistan Movement in Canada:
    • The Khalistan movement traces back to Surjan Singh Gill's establishment of the 'Khalistan government in exile' office in Vancouver in 1982, with limited local Sikh support.
  • Connection to Punjab Militancy:
    • The militancy in Punjab during the 1980s had repercussions in Canada.
    • Canada's handling of individuals like Talwinder Singh Parmar, accused of terrorism in Punjab, was criticized by India.
  • Air India Bombing (1985):
    • Canada witnessed a horrific act of terrorism with the bombing of Air India Kanishka in June 1985, orchestrated by the Babbar Khalsa, a Khalistani outfit.

What are the Previous Instances of India-Canada Tensions?

  • Early Tensions (1948):
    • The strained relations trace back to 1948 when Canada supported a plebiscite in Kashmir, reflecting early discord.
  • 1998 Nuclear Tests:
    • Canada’s recall of its high commissioner to India following India's nuclear tests marked a significant downturn in relations.
  • Recent Developments:
    • PM of Canada expressions of concern regarding India's response to farmers' protests and his Liberal Party's alliance with the New Democratic Party (NDP), which endorsed the Khalistan Referendum, further fueled tensions.

Way Forward

  • The Indian government should invest in the economic development of Punjab and ensure that it gets its fair share of resources, opportunities, and benefits.
  • The government should also address the problems of unemployment, drug abuse, environmental degradation, and agrarian distress that plague Punjab.
  • The Indian government should ensure justice for the victims and survivors of the violence and human rights violations that occurred during the Khalistan movement.
  • Both countries should maintain open lines of communication at various levels of government to discuss concerns and grievances openly.
  • Engage in constructive and respectful dialogue to address the Khalistan issue, clarifying each other's perspectives, and finding common ground.

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