Musings on the frictions in India-Canada ties
On June 4 in Brampton, Canada, there was a pro-Khalistani demonstration. At one point, two troops pointed their rifles at a woman wearing a white sari who was bloodied. “Revenge of attack on Shri Darbar Sahib” was written on the board behind her. The phrase “Never forget 1984” was written on the side of the float. The individuals in the tableau were former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her killers.
Background on Khalistan Issue
- The Khalistan issue is a Sikh separatist movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the Punjab region called Khalistan.
- Its roots can be seen in India’s independence and subsequent Partition, which resulted in communal violence and the relocation of millions of people, including Sikhs.
- The Punjabi Suba Movement and the Anandpur Sahib Resolution, which requested greater autonomy for Punjab, fueled the movement.
- Under the leadership of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who took up residence in the Golden Temple and founded the Dharam Yudh Morcha, the movement grew violent in the 1980s.
- In 1984, the Indian government began “Operation Blue Star” to clear out terrorists from the Golden Temple and bring Bhindranwale to justice. The raid caused significant damage to the Golden Temple and resulted in the deaths of several terrorists and bystanders.
- Following Operation Blue Star, there was communal violence and a long-running insurgency in Punjab that lasted until 1995.
- The movement failed to achieve its goal for a variety of reasons, including harsh police crackdowns, factional infighting, and Sikh disillusionment.
- Today, the movement is fuelled by vote bank politics, socioeconomic issues including unemployment and drug misuse in Punjab, and non-state actors’ backing.
- The movement continues to elicit sympathy and support from segments of the Sikh people, particularly the Sikh diaspora.
Pro-Khalistani Parade in Brampton, Canada:
- Canada’s Brampton had a pro-Khalistani march on June 4, which featured a float depicting a gory figure mimicking the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her killers.
- The float displayed the slogan “Revenge of attack on Shri Darbar Sahib” and the phrase “Never forget 1984,” alluding to the anti-Sikh riots that took place in India in that year.
Indian External Affairs Minister’s Reaction:
- On June 8, during a press conference, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar impliedly but not outright criticised the offensive float.
- He emphasised the harm done to India-Canada relations by Canada’s acceptance of separatists, extremists, and proponents of violence.
Glorification of Indira Gandhi’s Assassination:
- The author points out that while Jaishankar did not specifically mention Indira Gandhi in his speech, the Canadian High Commissioner to India denounced the incident and did so.
- The author emphasises how important it is to address the exaltation of retaliation for the murder of an Indian prime minister as an issue of national dignity.
Indian Diaspora’s Impact on Canadian Politics:
- The Indian diaspora, which includes Sikhs, has a significant impact on Canadian politics and public life.
- The influence of several ethnic Indians in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is attributed to “vote bank” politics.
- The author notes that Indian politicians like Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi use diaspora politics to seek support and capitalise on their notoriety.
Canadian Politics and Relationship with India:
- The author points out that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau depends on the New Democratic Party (NDP) to keep his administration in power and that Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the NDP, is a supporter of Khalistan.
- India rejected Singh’s plea for Trudeau to get involved in events connected to the Punjab.
- Despite obstacles in the two countries’ relations, cooperation persists in several sectors, including the Cannabis medicinal initiative.