Can India and Canada use Justin Trudeau's visit to move beyond Khalistan

While Ottawa must understand the difference between promoting 'diversity' and 'extremism', New Delhi must curb rising 'intolerance'.

 |  4-minute read |   17-02-2018
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's week-long visit to India marks the beginning of a greater India-Canada cooperation. A global leader, who has become the face of free voice, diversity and unity, comes to India at a time when we are grappling with the issue of "tolerance". In the entire insider-outsider, us versus them debate, Trudeau has shone like a beacon of light for those who wish to see alleviation and elimination of such a vicious global environment.

He has invited with open arms those who have been shunned in their own homeland, those who look to Canada for a brighter future, those who need space to be heard. Trudeau has been an answer to scores of Indians as well. In 2016 alone, around 40,000 Indian immigrants found home in Canada.

Today the Indian community in Canada makes up for a significant vote bank and some have made it to Trudeau's cabinet. The reason why this visit is more important to Canada than maybe to India is the huge constituency Prime Minister Trudeau has to cater to back home, the huge Indian community, particularly from Punjab.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has always considered the Indian community living overseas an important component of his foreign policy toolkit. As part of India's "soft power" policy, Indians living abroad have become "influencers". But Canada is a unique case where while we have Indian origin parliamentarians contending to become PM, we also have some members of the very same community supporting growing Sikh radicalism that is reviving the Khalistani movement in Canada. A matter of grave concern to India. One that has been raised by India at all official levels.

India and Canada have grown leaps and bounds when it comes to trade, investment and the energy sectors although both agree there is room for more. But the area that we have lagged behind in is security and the strategic sphere. Do our interests converge? Are we on the same page when it comes to security concerns?

Security isn't about regional and global arena. It starts from home. The questions that are being raised are whether both countries would be able to find a way to understand each other's concerns. India has made amply clear the impact this resurgence could have on India's security.

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But, Trudeau looks at the community as a celebration of cultures and peoples. He in fact attended an event in April 2017 in Toronto which had Khalistani flags and pictures of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a terrorist killed in action in Punjab, put up everywhere. Unaware or unconcerned of the sensitivity involved? There is a reason why Canadian leadership has tread very carefully in the past on the issue because the 1985 Kanishka bombing, which killed a total of 329 people, including 268 Canadians, 27 Britishers and 24 Indians; remains a reminder of the devastation such movements can cause.

Canada might have moved on and away from this horrid past, but this continues to remain a part of the conversations between India and Canada.

While India has been engaging Canada to look at the bigger picture and not get confined in petty political bickering, the fact is that there is more to the ties between India and Canada and hence the need to delink the "Khalistan" issue from the substantive part of our ties.

India and Canada have many areas in which they can benefit from mutual cooperation. Trade, job creation, investment sector are just some of those areas. Apart from this, climate change, and counter-terrorism (every vote at the world body counts) are areas where the two countries can benefit by working closely. Canada has steadfastly supported India's bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

There is much to gain for both the countries. But much more can be achieved if the leaders' can find common grounds on all issues. Canada will have to differentiate between "diversity" and "extremism" and India will have to make a distinction between "freedom of speech and action" and "intolerance" in the name of that same freedom.

Also read: How Nirav Modi swindling Punjab National Bank of Rs 11,000cr will impact Modi government

Writer

Geeta Mohan Geeta Mohan @geeta_mohan

The writer is the Foreign Affairs Editor at IndiaToday

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