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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Sikh separatism has lengthy strained Canada-India ties. Now they’re at their lowest level in years

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NEW DELHI — Canada-India relations have sunk to their lowest level in years as the 2 international locations are swapping accusations and expelling one another’s diplomats over the killing of a Sikh separatist chief. Consultants stated it stays to be seen if it’ll create an enduring rift between the 2 U.S. allies, but it surely’s nonetheless an ungainly state of affairs for western international locations looking for to woo New Delhi as a counterweight to China and win India’s cooperation on the Ukraine conflict.

5 years in the past, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau captured headlines in India for enthusiastically embracing the nation’s tradition throughout a weeklong journey together with his household. He donned a sequence of colourful, glittering conventional Indian fits, visited monuments and even acquired Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s signature bear hug — an indication that their relationship was on the up.

These days appeared gone for good when Trudeau stated Monday that his authorities is investigating “credible allegations” that India might have been tied to the killing of a Canadian Sikh independence activist in British Columbia in June. India rejected that as “absurd” Tuesday and accused Canadian diplomats of interfering in “inner issues.”

New Delhi’s anxieties about Sikh separatist teams in Canada have lengthy been a pressure on the connection, however the two have maintained sturdy protection and commerce ties, and share strategic pursuits over China’s world ambitions.

Indicators of a diplomatic rift emerged on the G20 Summit hosted by India earlier this month.

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Trudeau skipped the official dinner hosted for the G20 leaders and native media studies stated he was dealt a snub when he bought a fast “pull apart” assembly with Modi, as a substitute of a sit-down bilateral assembly.

Modi raised issues that Canada’s authorities was gentle on Sikh separatists, in line with an Indian assertion launched on the time. Trudeau’s journey ended with much more awkwardness when his airplane broke down, forcing him to remain in New Delhi for some 36 hours longer than deliberate.

On Monday, Trudeau revealed a probable cause for the chilliness, saying he confronted the Indian prime minister on the summit with Canada’s suspicions about an assassination.

Canada has but to supply proof of Indian involvement within the slaying of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a 45-year-old Sikh chief who was killed by masked gunmen in Surrey, British Columbia.

India, although, has accused Canada for years of giving free rein to Sikh separatists, together with Nijjar who was a frontrunner in what stays of a once-strong motion to create an impartial Sikh homeland, generally known as Khalistan.

Whereas the lively insurgency ended a long time in the past, the Modi authorities has warned that Sikh separatists had been making an attempt to stage a comeback and pressed international locations like Canada, the place Sikhs make up greater than 2% of the inhabitants, to do extra in stopping them.

In June, India summoned Canada’s highest diplomat to complain a couple of parade float seen in a small Canadian city that commemorated the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on the peak of the Sikh insurgency. In late 2020, it did the identical to complain after Trudeau made sympathetic feedback about protests by farmers from Punjab, the place Sikhs are a majority.

The difficulty by no means dominated ties between the 2 international locations, however some specialists say that would change.

“Whereas each don’t desire a rupture in relations, they’re going to have bother discovering offramps after occasions of the previous few days,” stated Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Middle’s South Asia Institute.

The tensions seemingly sparked Canada to lately halt talks with India on a brand new commerce deal, an indication that “their relationship isn’t as resilient and foolproof as many would love it to be,” added Kugelman. The 2 international locations are comparatively minor buying and selling companions, however proponents had argued {that a} commerce deal may enhance jobs and GDP for each.

The unsavory allegations may additionally damage Modi’s rising gentle energy within the west, Kugelman stated, however values and morals don’t essentially drive overseas relations.

“We’re not going to see the Western democracies attempt to take away India from their strategic calculus, particularly by way of countering China. The strategic convergences are too sturdy,” he added.

To date, allies like the UK and the US have expressed concern concerning the killing, however have stopped in need of commenting on India’s alleged position.

On Tuesday, Australia’s Overseas Minister Penny Wong stated Canada’s allegations had been “regarding,” and that Canberra was monitoring developments and had raised the difficulty with India.

Derek Grossman, a senior protection analyst on the RAND Company, stated India might have the opportunity merely to attend the difficulty out.

“If Saudi Arabia’s expertise following its homicide of Jamal Khashoggi is any information, India’s greatest pal is time,” he stated, referring to the 2018 killing of a US-based Saudi journalist in Istanbul. “The longer disputes over the incident drag on, the extra seemingly it’s that each side and others will need to transfer on.”

Some Indian specialists stated Modi’s confrontational response to the allegations displays a sample of hyping separatist threats to consolidate its Hindu nationalist base.

“It’s unprecedented, however not fully surprising, due to the way in which this authorities has held its overseas coverage hostage to home politics,” stated Sushant Singh, a senior fellow on the Centre for Coverage Analysis in India.

Modi has sought to forged India as a rising world energy, adept at juggling ties with creating international locations and Russia on one hand, and the West on the opposite.

Singh stated the incident will “put India underneath strain and it must commit plenty of vitality to comprise that fallout.”

Quite a few Indian information websites and TV channels ran headlines like: “India trashes Canada’s massive cost” or referred to India’s “savage reply” to Canada. Social media customers criticized Trudeau for not taking India’s separatism issues critically.

Some Indian commentators have additionally been skeptical over the allegations, saying Trudeau didn’t provide laborious proof and recommended he was making an attempt to enchantment to Sikh constituencies for political factors.

However to many different Indians, particularly college students, Canada is extra related as a pretty vacation spot abroad. In 2022, the nation had almost 300,000 Indians college students pursuing larger schooling.

Prabhjit Singh, a 21-year-old pupil in New Delhi, stated he hoped the strained ties don’t have an effect on the goals and careers of younger Indians like him. “Many individuals from India go to Canada for research and work — I additionally need to go there for a greater future. I hope peace prevails between the 2 international locations,” he stated.


AP videojournalist Piyush Nagpal contributed from New Delhi.

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