Wednesday 22 September 2021, 02:38 PM
Why Canada is Becoming a hot-spot for Anti-India Activities
By Prof. Uma Singh JNU | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 2/12/2021 4:40:50 PM
Why Canada is Becoming a hot-spot for Anti-India Activities

Recent comments by Canadian politicians around the ongoing farmers’ protests in India continue to rankle the Indian government. On December 4, 2020 the Indian foreign ministry summoned the Canadian High Commissioner to India, Nadir Patel, and “informed the comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, some cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament on issues relating to Indian farmers constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs”.  The statement also added that “such actions if continued would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada”. This is the strongest reaction from the Indian government on the issue.  Speaking on November 30, 2020 about the ongoing farmers’ protests led by Sikh farmers from Punjab on the occasion of the birth anniversary of the founder of Sikhism, Trudeau had said: “I would be remiss if I did not start by recognizing the news coming from India about the protest by farmers the situation is concerning”.

Do these statements suggest interventionism in internal affairs of other countries is on the rise?  Is domestic politics taking precedence in how countries conduct foreign policy and is the principle of non-intervention in international affairs a relic of the past that needs revisiting?  This diplomatic spat between India and Canada is over farm laws.  It is not a Khalistani issue.  When Trudeau called farmers’ protests as illinformed, he had an eye on his domestic politics.  Since Trudeau won the elections in 2015, the 1980s have returned to haunt India-Canada ties.  Sikh secessionists who supported a separate country (Khalistan) unleashed a blood-bath in the State of Punjab in the 1980s.  In 1985, the Air India jumbo jet “Kanishka” flying from Montreal to Delhi was blown up by Sikh terrorists leaving 329 people dead.  Knowing all of this, Trudeau still attended a khalsa parade in May where many of these militants were feted.  Nearly half a million Sikhs live in Canada and account for 1.4 per cent of the population.  Trudeau is such a favourable personality among the Sikhs that he is jokingly called Justin Singh.   Truedeau has been studiously ambiguous on the Khalistani ties of hhis Liberal Party’s Sikh Canadian supporters.

It deservesto be noted that historical baggage from the Sikh separatist movement of 1980s and later 1990s continues to case a long shadow over India Canada relations.  India suspects that Canada continues to play host to an array of anti-Sikh forces.  Many supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also seek to frame the ongoing farmers’ protest as a cover for Sikh secessionism and reviving the demand for Khalistan, the term Sikh separatists use to describe an independent homeland for their co-religionists.  Indeed, the Attorney General told the Supreme Court on 12 January 2021 that Khalistanis have infiltrated the protests days after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, no less, said it was wrong to question the farmers’ commitment to the nation.  Curiously, SuhasiniHaider of The Hindu noted in a tweet India has not summoned the Chinese Ambassador even once despite a deadly clash between the two countries in Galwan valley mid June that saw the death of 20 India soldiers and the worst military stand off between the two countries over half a century.

India and Canada relation is yet to develop its full potential.  The ideological and strategic divergences between the two countries have shaped their bilateral engagements over the years.  This article argues how diaspora politics and the presence of Khalistan sympathisers in Canada has affected New Delhi’s interest in seeking a broader relations with Ottawa.  We also need to discuss the controversial nature of Trudeau’s 2018 visit to India and its inability to assuage India’s concerns regarding Khalistani activism that has made New Delhi apprehensive about its ties with Canada.  While popular opinion at that time suggested that Trudeau’s visit was devoid of a purpose, in theory Canada’s intent was to consolidate the gains made by the previous Harper administration in areas of bilateral trade and political relations.  However, the visit garnered media attention for entirely different reasons.  To Canada’s  dismay Trudeau was received only by India’s Union Minister for Agriculture, GajendraShekhawat and by district level officials in Agra.  While such lukewarm reception might point to New Delhi’s indifference towards India-Canada relations, several political factors account for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “snub” to Trudeau.

The visit exposed the lack of a clear plan of action and policy on the part of Canada to effectively engage India.  Trudeau first visited the Taj Mahal in Agra.  His “bhangra” dance at Canada House was widely criticized in the media.  Many questioned Trudeau’s sincerity as a leader who only seemed interested in courting a specific constituency of Indian voters back home.  Moreover the Canadian delegation announced that it would visit the Golden Temple but not met Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh, who has been unequivocal in his criticism of Khalsasympathisers based in Canada.  Amarinder Singh refused to meet Canadian defense minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan who had accompanied Trudeau.  These developments diverted attention away from the core issues related to cooperation in the field of energy cooperation and the pending trade agreements between India and Canada.  Before departing for Canada, Trudeau met Mr.Modi on February 23 and the meeting focused on the emerging structural and strategic relations including India’s economic rise, its developmental potential and the prevailing uncertainty in India’s neighbourhood.

India and Canada have had a chequered history.  Since Independence, Canada has recognized the country as a major power in Asia that was crucial in maintaining the balance of power in Asia Canada’s association with the British Commonwealth, its federal democratic character and its rich ethnic diversity laid the foundation for bilateral relations between India and Canada.  Canada further sought to position itself s a bridge between the US and India to moderate US’s views about India and vice-versa. During the cold war perioe the personal equation between Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his Canadian counterpart Louis St. Laurent and later Lester Peterson helped develop some strategic understanding between the two sides.

India became the largest recipient of Canadian external assistance.  Under the Colombo Plan Canada provided large grants to India’s civil nuclear programme.  However, Canada’s status as  founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was at odds with India Non-aligned Movement membership and its aim to maintain strategic neutrality between the two cold war blocs.  Fault lines first emerged in 1948 when Canada supported a plebiscite in Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir – a position that was antithetical to India’s interests.  Differences over other issues of international importance further deepened the gulf between India and Canada.

John Diefenbaker’s Conservative party led government was considered to be closer to Pakistan under the leadership of Ayub Khan to India.  Canadian security interests were aligned closely to the US.  Thus despite considerable opportunity in trade and people to people ties, Canada could not foster close relations with India owing to the latter’s  non-aligned status which limited its outreach towards the Western bloc countries.  In 1974 foreign policy mandarins of Canada were infuriated when India carried out nuclear tests.  India subsequently carried nuclear tests in Pokhran, Rajasthan in 1998 driven by a range of domestic and external incentives such as the emerging consensus between India’s political elites and the scientific community; the security threat posed by China in the light of the 1962 Sino-Indian war, and China’s nuclear tests in Lop Nor, India’s relations with Canada deteriorated.

The recent turn of events on the Indo-Canada front is quite unfortunate as Modi had reached to Canada in a big way six years back.  Trudeau’s predecessor Stephen Harper and Modi had tried to lay the foundation for a strategic partnership during the latter visit to Canada in 2015 after decades of neglect hoping to reap the benefits of geopolitical convergence.  In the past decade even as New Delhi expanded its global foot-print there was little interest in Canada.  Modi wanted to alter that with his trip in 2015 which marked the first to Canad by India’s head of government in 42 years.  And he secured a landmark nuclear energy deal with Canada for the supply of 3.2 million kilograms of Uranium over a five year period, formally ending a long-standing moratorium on Canada’s exports of nuclear material in India.  In the 1970s India used Canadian technology in its nuclear programme.  With India being the second fastest growing market for nuclear fuel this deal was crucial for Canadian producer Cameco Corporation as the supplier of uranium.  And it came 45 years after Canada, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau banned uranium exports to India.

Bilaterial trade has been slow to develop too, with India accounting for only 2 per cent of Canada’s global trade.  Free trade negotiations which began in 2010 are not going anywhere.  Yet India remains a critical market for Canadian products such as lentils, peas, lumbar and potash, especially as India remains the world’s fastest growing major economy.

With over 1.2 million people of Indian origin, Canada remains an important destination for Indians.  Being an open economy it has continued to attract not only Indian capital but also Indian professionals and students.  “India has the strength; what is needed is opportunity”.  Modi had said while addressing an estimated over ten thousand strong Indian diaspora at Ricoh Collisieum in Toronto during his 2015 visit, underlining the role of the Indian diaspora can play in creating these opportunities.

On the security front, a stable balance of power in the wider India-Pacific will serve both Indian and Canadian interests.  The Arctic where Canada has significant stakes is growing in salience.  As the recently released Chinese White Paper on the Arctic makes clear Beijing’s intent on challenging the extant status quo pertaining to the region.  Closer institutional collaboration and intelligence sharing on tackling terrorism and extremism is also the view of the hour.

And yet all that Trudeau’s visit had focused was Ottawa’s soft pedaling on the issue of Sikh separatism.  The Modi government has managed to convey a message of political unity on a matter of supreme national interest.  This was not enough to assuage the Indian concerns.  It seems as if Ottawa was intent on wasting an opportunity of engaging India.  It may have its own constraints but then New Delhi will not be remiss if it decides to ignore Canada in its foreign policy calculations.

India-Canada relations have struggled to prosper despite the two countries sharing various complementarities such as their democratic character and association in the Commonwealth.  Starting with ideological inability to take into consideration India’s strategic realities, the differences have festered between the two sides.  India’s Cnada policy on the other hand has partly been informed by the presence of Khalistanisympathisers who espouse anti-India sentiments.  Canada’s criticism of India has dented India’s interest in engaging Canada as a strategic partner.   These criticisms have come at various levels including provincial legislatures involving past events such as the military action in Amritsar’s Golden Temple and the 1984 riots.

Even as India’s economic potential including the investment opportunities it offers has led Canada to periodically review the economic dimension of this bilateral relations its India policy.  For India to overcome the longstanding hiatus in its relations with Canada, it must divert attention away from politically contentious issues.  New Delhi should also take into consideration the past events – the Sikh diaspora in Canada have gradually become part of the political discourse there.  It is, therefore, useful to develop a new framework of cooperation that is more pragmatic and emphasizes on mutually beneficial areas such as trade where opportunities lie and much work remained to be done.  Undoubtedly, there is need for a unique blend of history, commonality of values as liberal democracy, the diaspora factor which resulted in the setting up of a strategic partnership between the two countries.

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Canada,Becoming,hot-spot,Anti-India,Activities

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