On September 18th, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada directly accused the Indian Government of being responsible for the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, whom he referred to as a ‘Canadian citizen’ and a ‘peaceful activist’. His statement was based on “credible” allegations and he also claimed that the Canadian intelligence agency had actively found “a potential link between the killing of the Canadian Citizen and the agents of the government of India”. Trudeau made these allegations without any substantial evidence and said that involvement of any foreign government was an “outrageous upfront to Canada’s sovereignty”. However, the Indian Government rejected these allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and in response accused the Canadian government of being sympathetic towards anti – India activity.
To begin with, all this started with the assassination of a Canadian based Sikh activist and leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar on 19th June earlier this year in front of a gurudwara in Surrey, Canada. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Hardeep Singh Nijjar wasn’t just a Sikh leader, he was a very vocal Khalistani separatist who along with other Khalistani demanded for a separate nation ‘Khalistan’ in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s involvement with criminal groups allegedly began when he was a child in his native village of Bhar Singh Pura in Punjab. According to the Indian authorities’ dossier, he was introduced to the mafia life by Gurnek Singh alias Neka during the chaotic 1980s and 1990s when the tensions between the Khalistani and the Indian Government were high. He became involved with Khalistan Commando Force (KCF) insurgents during this time, which was later listed as a terrorist group. Later in 1996, he chose to leave India and fled to Canada with a false passport as the investigations against his terror activities began. There he somehow got the Canadian citizenship mysteriously and he kept a low profile as a truckdriver. However, he continued to grow hi terror network and in 2012, it is believed he went onto Pakistan to get his training in arms and explosive training. As soon as he returned to Canada, he began to raise funds for terror activities through his associates, who were engaged in illegal activities like arms and drugs smuggling, extortion and even into contract killing. As his terror activities grew, he further joined hands with Jagtar Singh Tara, another known Khalistani and planned attacks on Punjab. Nijjar’s participation in preparing assaults on several targets, including the Dera Sacha Sauda Headquarters in Haryana’s Sirsa in 2014, is detailed in the dossier. While the headquarters attack did not occur, Nijjar allegedly told his module to target persons such as former DGP Mohd Izhar Alam, Shiv Sena leader Nishant Sharma from Punjab, and Baba Mann Singh Pehowa Wale. In December 2015, he allegedly formed a gang and sponsored its arms and weaponry training in British Columbia. Nijjar reportedly ordered the assassination of a priest in his hometown in 2021. Despite the failure of the plan, the event highlights Nijjar’s claimed intentions to establish a terror network in Punjab while operating from Canada.
India had established diplomatic relationship with Canada in 1947 based on shared democratic values, the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multireligious nature of two societies and strong people-to-people contacts. In recent years, both countries have been working to enhance bilateral cooperation in a number of areas of mutual importance. However, the relations between these bilateral countries had begun to deteriorate as Canada began to show utmost negligence continuously towards the Khalistani terrorism. In 2010, Manmohan Singh, the ex – Indian Prime Minister had directly asked the then Canadian Prime Minister, Steven Harper to “control Khalistani elements in Canada inclusing Hardeep’s Babbar Khalsa International”. In 2014, the Indian government had released an interpole notice against Nijjar wherein they described him to be ‘mastermind/ active member’ of Khalistan Tiger Force militant group which was identified as a terrorist organization by the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs. In 2016 another interpole notice was released against Nijjar for more serious charges of operating and providing arms training to Khalistani militants on the Canadian grounds. However, these notices and allegations were again denied by the Canadian Government. Again, in July 2020, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs had released a document where in they had clearly designated Hardeep Singh Nijjar as a terrorist who was associated to various terror attacks in India including the 2007 Ludhiana’s Shringar Cinema Blast where 6 were killed and numerous were injured fatally and the 2009 assassination of Sikh Indian Politician Rudla Singh. In 2022, the Punjab police had sent an extradition for Nijjar which was again not acted upon by the Canadian government.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly says that Canada has expelled a senior diplomat from India over the allegations of the “agent of foreign government” killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a “Canadian citizen” on the “Canadian soil”. They had also taken a pause upon trade talks between India and Canada ahead of the G20 summit in New Delhi. In response to the Canada government actions, the Indian government has also ordered a senior Canadian diplomat to leave the nation at the earliest and also suspended the Visa applications owing to “unspecified security threats”.
However, amidst this soured diplomatic relationship between India and Canada it is also important to note that India – Canada connection is an important one. It doesn’t only share a vital trade relation but also a large population of Indian descent have immigrated and settled well in Canada. This diaspora contributes to Canada’s cultural, social, economic, and political diversity, and yet it maintains links with India through a variety of channels, including cultural traditions, language, and community organisations. Out of these 17 lakh Indians, the 40 percent of the student population are that of Indian origin. Therefore, it is important that this relationship should stay strong and resilient and it shouldn’t be affected by temporary incidents.
In the future, it is hoped that both countries would negotiate the present dispute with prudence and calm, ensuring that any transitory difficulties do not leave a lasting impression. The conviction in the endurance of the India-Canada relationship remains unshakable, with the expectation that it would be revived to its full potential in due course.
Written by: Madhu Shah (Trainee Reporter)