Indira Gandhi Float, Khalistani Posters: Build-Up To India-Canada Face-Off

India and Canada expelled each other’s envoys and issuing travel advisories flagging risks in each other’s territories

New Delhi: 

Tensions between India and Canada have spiked significantly over the past few days following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations linking Indian agents to the murder of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. India has termed the charges “absurd”.

The past couple of days have seen several tit-for-tat moves, with both countries expelling each other’s envoys and issuing travel advisories flagging risks in each other’s territories. In its latest move, India today suspended issue of visas to Canadian citizens “till further notice”.

Here is a look at what triggered tensions between New Delhi and Ottawa and how it snowballed into a full-blown diplomatic row

The Triggers

In March, Khalistani protests outside Indian missions and consulates in Canada prompted the centre to summon the Canadian High Commissioner. This had taken place amid a massive crackdown against Khalistani preacher Amritpal Singh in Punjab. An External Affairs Ministry statement had then said it is “expected that the Canadian Government will take all steps which are required to ensure the safety of our diplomats and security of our diplomatic premises”.

About two months later, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar hit out at the Canadian administration over a rally in Brampton that featured a float depicting the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Suggesting that “votebank politics” could be the reason behind Canada not cracking down on separatists, Dr Jaishankar said, “I think there is a larger underlying issue about the space which is given to separatists, to extremists, to people who advocate violence and I think it is not good for relationships and not good for Canada.”

Hardeep Singh Nijjar Killed

On June 18, Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead by masked gunmen in the parking area of a gurdwara in Canada’s British Columbia. Canada’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team started a probe, but there have been no arrests yet.

Weeks after Nijjar’s killing, a Khalistani organisation put out flyers that depicted Indian High Commissioner to Canada Sanjay Kumar Verma and Consul General Apoorva Srivastava as responsible for the terrorist’s murder. The two diplomats were described as “killers” in the pamphlets that announced a rally in Toronto on July 8. This prompted New Delhi to raise the issue with Canadian authorities.

Canada assured the safety of Indian diplomats and termed the “promotional material” circulated ahead of the rally “unacceptable”.

The G20 Build-Up

During the G20 summit in New Delhi from September 8-10, India sent clear signals of its dissatisfaction with Canada’s response to Khalistani activities on its soil. In a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi conveyed to his counterpart Trudeau concerns about “continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada”. “The nexus of such forces with organised crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well. It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats,” read India’s strongly-worded statement on the bilateral talks.

On his part, Trudeau said he had discussed Khalistan extremism and “foreign interference” with Prime Minister Modi multiple times.

Canada will always “defend freedom of expression… conscience and peaceful protest,” he told the media, adding that it will also prevent violence and push back against hatred.

“It is important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada. The flip side of it, we also highlighted the importance of respecting the rule of law, and we did talk about foreign interference,” he said.

The frosty exchange was followed by Trudeau’s embarrassing flight troubles when he could not fly back home due to a snag on his plane. New Delhi’s offer to fly him home was turned down by the Canadian side. Trudeau eventually left for home after a 36-hour delay and a high drama as the aircraft’s snag was fixed even as a back-up plane was on the way.

The Escalation

In a shocking claim, Trudeau said on Monday that Canada’s security officials had reasons to believe that “agents of the Indian government” had carried out the killing of Nijjar, a Canadian citizen.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open, and democratic societies conduct themselves,” he was quoted by news reports as saying.

New Delhi responded with a stern statement, saying “allegations of Government of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated”.

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