Indo-Canadian relations shaken by pro-Khalistan activities

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The relationship status is now Deep Frost. India’s recent travel advisory for students traveling to or studying in Canada to “use caution and remain vigilant” says it will be a long time before a thaw sets in.

The travel advisory came a day after India strongly opposed a referendum on Khalistan held in Ontario by the pro-Khalistani group Sikhs For Justice (SFJ). “A wacky exercise has been organized by extremists and radical elements supporting the so-called Khalistan referendum in Canada and elsewhere,” Arindum Bagchi said at the weekly press conference. “The matter was raised with Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels. The Government of Canada has reiterated that it respects India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and will not recognize the so-called Khalistan referendum taking place in Canada. Images on social media suggest that the referendum brought together a large number of people.

The travel warning issued – acknowledges the event – and is issued amid a “sharp increase in incidents of hate crimes, sectarian violence and anti-Indian activity in Canada”. “The Department of External Affairs and our High Commission/Consulates General in Canada have raised these incidents with the Canadian authorities and asked them to investigate the said crimes and take appropriate action. The perpetrators of these crimes have so far not been brought to justice in Canada,” the notice said.

A few weeks earlier, the BAPS Swaminarayan Temple in Canada was defaced with anti-Indian graffiti by “Canadian Khalistani” extremists. On September 15, the Indian High Commission tweeted: “We strongly condemn the defacing of BAPS Swaminarayan Mandir Toronto with anti-Indian graffiti. We have called on Canadian authorities to investigate the incident and take prompt action against the perpetrators.

Indian students were caught in the brewing storm. This is not the first notice the government has chosen to issue. Especially, with the visa problems plaguing Indian students. Canada attracts a large number of Indian students. And MEA figures show that in the first half of this year, 60,258 Indians chose to go to Canada to study. This has been particularly difficult for Indian students heading to Canada, as visas have taken a long time to process. The Indian High Commission, which was in contact with Canadian interlocutors, issued an advisory. “Underlining these issues and the fact that Indian students have already deposited tuition fees with Canadian institutions, we have requested the Canadian authorities to expedite the processing of visa applications for Indian students,” the notice said.

Tensions around Khalistan are not new. This has been an issue between the two countries since 1980. India has made clear to several governments its concerns about Khalistan extremism.

However, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, this conflict has worsened. In 2015, Trudeau attended the Khalsa Day parade – a red line for the Indian government – as he accused India of genocide in 1984. And Trudeau’s visit to India in 2018 – his first visit to State – ended up being called a disaster as the Indian government sent chills down its spine.

In 2020, a report by a Canadian think tank noted that support for the movement came from Pakistan. The report by veteran journalist Terry Milewski and published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute links support across the border, lending credence to India’s claims. therefore, so far, there has been little progress on the issue.

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Richard V. Johnson