India and Canada’s relationship just plummeted to Nunavut-low—the coldest Canadian state where the average temperature is minus 19 degrees Celsius for the year. India has come out all guns blazing against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's allegations that India may have had links to the killing of extremist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
“Allegations of Government of India's involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,’’ a statement by the ministry of external affairs said. In a matter of hours, Canada and India expelled each other’s diplomats in a tit-for-tat move. India also summoned Canadian High Commissioner Cameron Mackay to the ministry of external affairs on Tuesday.
In the House of Commons on Monday, Trudeau said that the country's intelligence agencies have been investigating the allegations after Nijjar was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh cultural centre in Surrey. “I told PM Modi that any Indian government involvement would be unacceptable and asked for cooperation in the investigation,’’ he said.
It was public—and it was deliberate—and has ensured that there is very little wiggle room. “The Canadians didn’t go about this quietly. Trudeau made the direct accusation while speaking before the House of Commons, and his government publicly identified an Indian diplomat it expelled as the head of Indian intel in Canada. A reflection of a highly fraught relationship,’’ posted Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute Director at the Wilson Centre.
It also comes at a time when India has come out strongly against Canada for anti-India activities, repeatedly. Last month the trade talks for a Free Trade Agreement between the two countries was put on hold soon after the G20 summit. The trade delegation due to come in October chose to postpone the trip. While there was no reason cited then, India claims it was over political developments in Canada.
The strain between the two countries was visible when Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came face to face at the G20 summit in Delhi. There was no bilateral meeting, but in the pull-aside meeting, Modi raised concerns over anti-India activities in Canadian soil. “Extremist elements” in the country, the press release said, were “inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada”.
The divide between India and Canada has been deepening. Especially, over support for Khalistan in Canada. In June, there was a parade float in Brampton, Ontario, depicting assassination of Indira Gandhi, that India took strong objection to. This was not the only time India has brought up the growing Khalistan sentiment in Canada.
But the expelling of diplomats is a new low between the countries and is likely to cast a long shadow over other bilateral relationships. “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau,” said White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson, according to news reports. “We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.” For United States, this tension between India and Canada will prove to be a tightrope walk.
Trudeau is believed to have raised the issue with the UK and France. Australia too, is watching the situation closely. "Australia is deeply concerned by these allegations and notes ongoing investigations into this matter," the spokesperson for foreign minister Penny Wong said.
Modi has in no uncertain terms raised concerns with Australia on Khalistan elements and attacks on temples when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese came to India. The UK, which has witnessed violent protests by Khalistani supporters, will be watching the situation closely, concerned about the impact at home as well as on diplomatic relations.