TORONTO: Sikhs in Canada are hoping that Ottawa’s shock accusations against India — that New Delhi may have been involved in the assassination of one of their leaders on Canadian soil — will be just the first step against alleged “Indian interference”.
Meanwhile, India on Wednesday warned its citizens against visiting parts of Canada, the latest salvo in a developing diplomatic row between the two countries.
“Threats have particularly targeted Indian diplomats and sections of the Indian community who oppose the anti-India agenda,” a ministry statement said.
“Indian nationals are therefore advised to avoid travelling to regions and potential venues in Canada that have seen such incidents.” The advisory did not name specific cities or locations for Indians to avoid.
Washington says it supports Ottawa’s probe; Delhi issues travel advisory as Congress party backs BJP govt
The travel advisory prompted a brief rejoinder from Canada’s Public Safety minister, who simply said: “Canada is a safe country.”
Meanwhile, the US has said it supports Canada’s efforts to probe the killing and urges New Delhi to cooperate in the investigation.
“We believe a fully transparent comprehensive investigation is the right approach so that we can all know exactly what happened, and of course, we encourage India to cooperate with that,” John Kirby, spokesman for the White House National Security Council (NSC), said while speaking to CNN.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assertion that agents linked to New Delhi may have been responsible for the June 18 murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar sent shockwaves through both countries, prompting the reciprocal expulsion of diplomats.An activist for the creation of Khalistan state, Nijjar was wanted by Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder — charges he denied.
But members of Canada’s Sikh community — the largest outside of India — said they were relieved that the accusation had been made.
His son also described feeling a “sense of relief” after the accusations were finally out in the open.
“It was just a matter of time for when the truth would come out.”
Referring to government authorities, Balraj Singh Nijjar said: “Hopefully, you can take this a step further and get specific individuals.”
A representative of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, Mukhbir Singh, said his countrymen may have been “shocked” by Trudeau’s assertion “but it was no surprise to the Sikh community”.
“For decades, India has targeted Sikhs in Canada with espionage, disinformation and now murder,” he alleged.
In Surrey, the town where he was gunned down, posters still pay tribute to Nijjar on the gates of the Sikh temple in this suburb of Vancouver.
In front of the blue and white building, yellow flags proclaiming “Khalistan” were flying. Anger in the community, which at 770,000 people forms some two percent of Canada’s population, has not subsided.
“The fact that a political assassination of this nature could occur in broad daylight in Surrey gives rise to grave concerns about the Government of Canada’s lack of decisive action in combating Indian foreign interference in Canada,” the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council said in a statement.
New Delhi, for its part, has described the accusations as “absurd.”
Jagmett Singh, the leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) and a Trudeau ally, called for India to be included in a public inquiry launched earlier this month into alleged foreign interference, particularly by China.
“In my experience, as a Sikh-Canadian, there have always been suspicions that India was interfering in the democratic rights of Canadians. Yesterday’s announcement confirms that these suspicions are valid,” he said.
Meanwhile, India’s opposition Congress party backed the BJP government’s rejection of Canada’s allegations.
“Trudeau’s defence of declared terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar is absolutely shameful and shows how much the present Canadian regime is in bed with Khalistani sympathisers,” Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a senior Congress lawmaker, posted on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
“Our country’s interests and concerns must be kept paramount at all times,” Jairam Ramesh, the chief spokesperson of Congress, said in a posting on X.
“The Indian National Congress has always believed that our country’s fight against terrorism has to be uncompromising, especially when terrorism threatens India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity.”
The insurgency also took the lives of key Congress leaders Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, and Punjab Chief Minister Beant Singh, who was killed in a bomb blast by Sikh separatists in 1995.
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023