Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked outrage in India on Monday by telling India’s parliament that authorities were investigating whether “agents” in New Delhi were behind the killing of a prominent Sikh activist in a Vancouver suburb in June.

The allegations surrounding Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s death, if proven, would pit the world’s largest democracy against governments that have carried out assassinations on foreign soil – including, most recently, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Nation – Stand Together.

“India has never been accused of assassinating dissidents abroad,” said Brahma Chellaney, professor emeritus at the Center for Policy Research, a think tank in New Delhi. “This is what authoritarian regimes do.”

Trudeau’s claims, which India flatly rejected as “ridiculous”, have triggered tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions and heightened tensions between Commonwealth countries. Indian leader Narendra Modi accused Trudeau of tolerating Sikh extremism in Canada in a public statement from the Prime Minister’s Office less than a week after the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi.

The accusations will heighten tensions in India’s domestic political environment months ahead of a general election in which Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party will seek a third term.

They also brought global attention to the cause of Sikh separatists, who advocate the creation of an independent “Khalistan” state in northern India – an idea that is strongly opposed by mainstream Indians across the political spectrum and has once again become a A diplomatic friction point for New Delhi. the past year.

Indian security analysts say Khalistan has greater support abroad, especially in Britain and Canada, which have the largest diaspora and where many Sikhs fled violence in Punjab decades ago. immigrated there due to the incident.

India map showing Delhi and Punjab

In 1984, Sikh separatists launched a roadblock after then-Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the religious minority’s holiest site. There is a surge of discontent in the Indian nation.

Gandhi was assassinated that year by two Sikh bodyguards, triggering revenge killings of Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere and triggering a security crackdown and violence in Punjab that left thousands dead. India accuses Pakistan of supporting Sikh separatism.

Punjab, India’s only Sikh-majority state, suffers from widespread drug abuse and a failing agricultural sector. This year, pro-Khalistan extremist Amritpal Singh led police in a month-long manhunt that was widely followed by Sikhs abroad.

Exiled Sikhs, who have staged a series of protests in the United States, Canada and Britain this year, sparked diplomatic opposition after they tore a flag from the Indian High Commission in London. In June, pro-Khalistan separatists in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto, staged a march on social media with a float depicting Gandhi’s assassination, including two armed men and clothes stained with blood. A dummy of the slain leader in a sari outraged Indians on social media.

In July, Indian officials expressed concern about posters circulated by organizers of another Canadian protest that read “Kill India” and showed photos of two Indian diplomats who were described as “Shahid (Martyr) Nijjar’s murderer in Toronto”.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Parliament on Monday
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in Parliament on Monday © Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press/Zuma/dpa

Relations between India and Canada have frayed in 2020 after Trudeau urged New Delhi to show restraint in response to destructive protests by farmers, many from Punjab, who blocked roads in Delhi and forced Modi to abandon planned agricultural reforms has deteriorated.

That same year, Trudeau took a tough stance against truckers who blocked streets in Canadian cities to protest against mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, an intervention that prompted some Indian commentators to cry hypocrisy.

At last week’s G20 meeting, Modi and Trudeau met outside the venue and briefly shook hands and took photos, but did not hold a formal bilateral meeting. Modi’s office later issued a statement saying that the Indian leader expressed concern about “continued anti-India activities by Canadian extremists” that “promote separatism and incite violence against Indian diplomats.”

Trudeau’s team told reporters that the Canadian prime minister “raised the importance of respecting the rule of law, democratic principles and national sovereignty.”

Trudeau’s delayed departure from the G20 summit over aircraft maintenance issues left the Canadian leader stranded in Delhi for two days and made headlines the row between the two leaders. The two countries suspended negotiations on a proposed free trade agreement last week.

An Indian security analyst expressed surprise that Canada would publicly blame India’s accusations rather than release evidence, and claimed that “gang-related activities” among Khalistan extremists could be to blame.

“A more prudent way for Canada to address this issue would be to arrest suspects and present evidence of Indian government involvement in court,” said Chellaney of the Center for Policy Studies.

The Indian government has accused Sikh nationalist Nijar of committing acts of terrorism and offered a reward for his arrest. The World Sikh Organization of Canada called his shooting by unknown assailants an “assassination” and called on police to investigate.

Some pro-Khalistan activists claimed Nijar’s death was part of a suspicious pattern, following the deaths of two other Sikh activists. Paramjit Singh Panjwar was shot dead in Lahore, Pakistan, in May, as was Avtar Singh, an aide to fugitive Amritpal Singh Avtar Singh Khanda died in hospital in Birmingham, England, in June.

While some supporters claimed Kanda was poisoned, West Midlands Police said in a statement that a “thorough review has been carried out” and there were “no suspicious circumstances” surrounding his death.

Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi, said that “almost every major security incident in Punjab in recent years has been the work of organized crime rather than individuals driven by Khalistan ideology” .

“Khalistani and diaspora gangs are increasingly promoting gangsterism, and Canada is an important place for this to happen.”

Additional reporting by Robert Wright in London

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