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Khalistan factor defined Trudeau visit to India

Khalistan
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News Analysis |

The Khalistan issue has kept India-Canada bilateral relations on ice in the last 3 decades since the 1980s. This issue has reappeared most recently and taken away much expected warmth during Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s week long visit to India. Some former diplomats claimed that the current tension between the two countries began after Trudeau came into power in 2015. After becoming Prime Minister, he got huge support from some of the most extreme Khalistani political groups.

A major variation came in April, 2017 when Trudeau have attended a “Khalsa Day” parade organized by one of the more famous gurdwaras in Toronto. At the time, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) made it clear that India’s protest had been taken up with the Canadian government. On this issue, former Ambassador to Canada Vishnu Prakash told The Hindu, “The visit to the khalsa day parade was a no-no for Canadian Prime Ministers for at least a decade, and we may be back to the drawing board on this issue, Trudeau has been left in no doubt on India’s concerns on the issue, and they have been taken up at the highest levels.”

India cannot claim to be a secular state in its true meaning unless it addresses the grievances of these groups. Keeping the Khalistan factor as a bone of contention in bilateral relations of India and Canada would not serve the former’s national interests.

Moreover, tensions were increased between India and Canada last month when 16 Canadian gurdwaras announced a ban on the entry of Indian elected officials, consular officials, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena members, without any action from the Trudeau government.

Around 1.9 million South Asians, including an influential Sikh diaspora are residing in Canada. It is interesting to know that Trudeau has boasted about the number of Sikhs in his Cabinet — as there are more of them in his government than in than in Modi’s; including his defense minister. The whole visit started on a bad note since PM Modi himself did not receive his Canadian counterpart. 

Read more: Fear of Sikh state? Indian SC moves to reopen anti-Sikh massacre…

Trudeau insisted to take along with him the ministers in his cabinet accused of sympathizing with the Khalistan movement such as Mr. Sajjan and Navdeep Singh Bains to Amritsar, which raised many issues.

During Trudeau’s visit to Amritsar, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh handed over a list of nine alleged Canada-based Khalistani operatives to him, which includes six alleged members of International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), and three linked to Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF). The alleged ISYF activists included in the list were Gurjeet Singh Cheema, Gurpreet Singh, Gurjinder Singh Pannu, KCF activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar and Malkeet Singh.

Nijjar belongs to Phillaur but is settled in Surrey in Canada and has been accused of the Ludhiana Shingar cinema blast in December 2014 that killed six people. Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal, (already arrested by Punjab police) was one of the youths who was sent from Canada to India for a targeted killing in 2016.

Hindu fundamentalism is increasing its influence and has already established a strong base of radicalism in the educational sector, bureaucracy and media in India. The hatred against minorities by Hindus is not being checked by the government led by the BJP

Cheema, a resident of Gurdaspur is based in Brampton, Ontario and visited Punjab in March/April 2017 and allegedly operationalized his terror section to carry out targeted killings. He is accused of getting weaponry from across the border (Pakistan) and making regular contact with Pakistan based Wadhawa Singh, BKI chief.

Gurpreet Singh, accused of raising ISYF module allegedly transferred Rs.1,00,972 to the module besides arranging local made weapons. Malkeet Singh from Amritsar who is now based in Surrey allegedly sourced local made weapons from UP in 2014, for operationalizing module members for carrying out targeted killings.

History states that the Sikh empire had their capital “Lahore” before the partition of the Indian Subcontinent in 1947. Their state has existed from 1709 to 1849. During partition Sikhs dispersed to many different areas. Some came to Pakistan and others lived in India.

Read more: Indian Republic Day met with global protests

Sikhs have been neglected by the Hindu community in India in various walks of life and have even been stopped from practicing their religious beliefs freely. Subsequently, they protested for their separate homeland and started a movement named as “Khalistan Movement” inside the current north western part of India. Sikhism has existed for 548 years, starting with the birth of its founder “Guru Nanak” and currently it is the third largest religion in India. They have been treated as low-grade citizens in India. Not only are the Muslim and Sikh minorities being treated badly but Indian Dalits are also living miserably and are deprived from basic amenities of life.

Trudeau insisted to take along with him the ministers in his cabinet accused of sympathizing with the Khalistan movement such as Mr. Sajjan and Navdeep Singh Bains to Amritsar, which raised many issues.

Hindu fundamentalism is increasing its influence and has already established a strong base of radicalism in the educational sector, bureaucracy and media in India. The hatred against minorities by Hindus is not being checked by the government led by the Bhartia Janta Party (BJP).

Furthermore, it is not only the “Khalistan movement” existing in India but there are other movements such as All Tripura Tiger Force, Babbar Khalsa, Bhindranwala Tigers Force of Khalistan, Bodo Liberation Tigers Force, Dal Khalsa, Dashmesh Regiment, International Sikh Youth Federation, United Liberation Front of Assam and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front.

Read more: Justin Trudeau enjoys hearty Bollywood welcome

India cannot claim to be a secular state in its true meaning unless it addresses the grievances of these groups. Keeping the Khalistan factor as a bone of contention in bilateral relations of India and Canada would not serve the former’s national interests.

On February 23 2018, during the Canadian Prime Minister’s visit, Narendra Modi and Trudeau discussed extensively the key issues of counter-terrorism and extremism and ways to increase trade ties. Later on, the two countries signed six pacts, including one on energy cooperation. It will be interesting to see if the Khalistan issue will have a major impact on the two countries’ foreign relations in the future.


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