How Trudeau had to walk a tightrope on Khalistan at Delhi G20 Summit

Sushim Mukul
Sushim MukulSep 11, 2023 | 17:07

How Trudeau had to walk a tightrope on Khalistan at Delhi G20 Summit

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Photo: Narendra Modi

Meeting on the sidelines of the recently concluded G20 summit in New Delhi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, reportedly discussed a wide array of topics related to Canada-India bilateral relations.

Taking centre stage among the discussed topics was India's concerns regarding the 'anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.'

While the official Government of India's Press Release did not explicitly mention 'Khalistani extremism,' it was well understood by all after Canadian PM spoke to the media following the meeting.

The GoI Press Release. Courtesy: PIB

The meeting

  • Prime Minister Modi reportedly expressed his concerns about extremist elements in Canada that promote secessionism, incite violence against India and Indian diplomats, damage diplomatic premises, and threaten the Indian community and their places of worship.
  • Modi also highlighted the nexus between these extremist forces and organized crime, drug syndicates, and human trafficking, emphasizing that this should be a shared concern for both India and Canada.

Trudeau's response

  • Trudeau's response, in a press briefing after the meeting, to these concerns raised eyebrows, as he maintained that Canada would defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and freedom of peaceful protest.
  • "We are always there to prevent violence and to push back against hatred," he added, stressing the importance of Canadian values.
  • This stance is not something new for the Canadian Prime Minister, but for Indian interests, the emergence of Khalistani extremism among the diaspora in Canada, the UK, the USA, and Australia, and its handling by the governments, especially Canada, has become a growing concern for Indian interests in recent years.

Khalistani movement resurgence in Canada

  • The issue of Khalistani extremism in Canada has been contentious, and in recent years, Canada has witnessed a series of anti-India incidents involving Khalistani separatists.
  • These incidents have included parades celebrating the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and gatherings outside the Indian Embassy in Ottawa where anti-India slogans were raised, and an Indian journalist was reportedly assaulted.
  • Following this, the Indian government summoned the Canadian ambassador in New Delhi to express concerns about the growing active presence of pro-Khalistani groups in Canada.
  • External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar even urged partner countries like Canada, the UK, and the US not to provide space for "extremist Khalistani ideology," reminding them that it would be detrimental to bilateral relations.
  • Canada, in response, had assured India of the safety of its diplomats and condemned the circulation of Khalistani posters naming Indian officials as "unacceptable."

  • However, more concrete iron-fist actions on Canadian soil, which India desires, are missing. Incidentally, on the day of the Modi-Trudeau meeting (September 10), a referendum was organized by the secessionist group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), at a gurdwara in British Columbia, Canada.

  • This happens to be the same Gurdwara where Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the prominent SFJ leader, was shot dead.


Why Trudeau won't condemn Khalistanis

  • Trudeau's approach to Khalistani extremism is seen through a political lens, and rightly so, as his Liberal Party's minority government was formed after the 2021 election and relies on the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP), led by Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, who is known for his vocal support of the Khalistani cause. Singh's NDP won 24 seats in the 2021 election, making it crucial for the survival of Trudeau's government.
  • Singh even raised his voice during the farmer's protest, and the subsequent police crackdown on protestors led by Amritpal Singh was not received well by the Government of India.
  • There are also a few members in the Trudeau Cabinet who have a soft spot for the Khalistani cause.

While Singh's support has been instrumental for Trudeau's government, it has also made Trudeau more cautious in his approach to the Khalistani extremism issue. Trudeau is essentially navigating a delicate balance, seeking to avoid upsetting his political ally, Jagmeet Singh, while also maintaining a dependable partnership with India.

Last updated: September 11, 2023 | 17:07
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