Long stories short
- The UK’s annual inflation rate fell to 6.7 per cent in August, despite fuel price rises.
- A one year-old died after inhaling fentanyl kept under a mat at a New York nursery.
- Spain’s women’s football players agreed to end their boycott of the national team.
A murder in Vancouver
On Monday Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, said his country’s intelligence services were pursuing “credible allegations” that India was involved in the murder of a Canadian Sikh leader in June.
So what? India is supposed to be a friend and partner. The world may be familiar with Russian and Iranian hit squads plying their trade on European streets, some with a penchant for Anglican cathedral spires. But, if true, Trudeau’s warning shot to New Delhi this week represents something else – and the fallout goes beyond Canada and India.
Canada is part of the G7 and a Five Eyes intelligence-sharing ally of the US and Britain, meaning these countries will also be drawn into the dispute.
It was reported yesterday that Canada worked “very closely” with the US to make the link between Indian agents and the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar. New Delhi has furiously denied the claims and expelled a Canadian diplomat after Ottawa removed a top Indian intelligence official.
Gunned down in Surrey. Nijjar was a leader of the Sikh community in Surrey, a suburb of Vancouver. He moved to Canada over two decades ago as a refugee and worked as a plumber.
As he left a local temple in his Dodge Ram pickup truck in June, two men ran up to his window and shot him. A dozen spent bullet shells were found beside the car.
- Before Nijjar was killed, he reportedly said that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service had alerted him about the possibility of an attack.
- India’s National Investigation Agency had accused him of being a terrorist (the web page linking to his official file has since been deleted).
Oh, Khalistan. Nijjar was part of the pro-Khalistan movement, which calls for the creation of an independent Sikh homeland in parts of modern-day northern India and Pakistan.
In the 1970s, the separatist movement gathered strength, eventually resulting in a catastrophic clash with Indian security forces in Punjab in 1984 and the assassination of PM Indira Gandhi.
- The movement holds relatively little sway in India today. But the dream of an independent Khalistan does retain some hold in parts of the Sikh diaspora in Canada, the UK, the US and Australia.
- As the Hindu diaspora has been mobilised by the Hindu nationalist ideology promoted by India’s ruling BJP, the Sikh diaspora has also become more extreme in its views.
Shadow puppet. The BJP, led by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, paints the pro-Khalistan movement as an existential separatist threat to India’s existence, even though there is almost no movement to speak of in the country itself.
Instead, it seems the BJP is using the idea of these movements as a shadow enemy. The spectre of well-organised Sikh terrorists funded by Delhi’s sworn enemies in Pakistan could help entrench Modi’s appeal to Hindu nationalists.
Cold shoulder. The Khalistan issue has hamstrung Canadian-Indian relations for decades.
- Modi’s BJP feels Canada does not do enough to stop the so-called terrorists, while
- Canada says pressure groups should be free to express themselves peacefully.
Domestic politics is part of the context. About 770,000 Sikhs live in Canada today, making up a sizable voting bloc in the country of 40 million. Trudeau wants to keep the minority on side for votes. “I have more Sikhs in my cabinet than Modi does,” he once quipped.
At the recent G20 summit in Delhi, Trudeau was picked up from his plane in the rain by an old Toyota, while other attendees got Mercedes and Audis. Modi held bilateral talks with many world leaders, while Trudeau and Modi had a brief discussion on the sidelines. Trade talks have been paused and Canada last week cancelled a planned trade mission in October.
Nothing to see here. Until now, the reasoning in Washington and London on India’s lurch towards Hindu nationalism has been akin to: “speak softly on human rights and carry a big trade deal proposal”. Both countries want India onside to counter China’s influence in Asia.
Will that hold if New Delhi was involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen? Possibly.
A senior US state department official said America was “quite concerned” about the allegations. Downing Street said it would not “get ahead” of the investigation being carried out by the Canadian government and that “when we have concerns with countries we are negotiating trade deals with, we will raise them directly with the government.”
That’s diplomat-speak for: “not really our problem, chaps.” Not yet, at least.
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