Canada and India are currently at odds over the recent murder of Khalistani extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. In recent days, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted at Indian involvement in Nijjar’s killing, an accusation that India vehemently denies. Following these allegations, both countries have expelled each other’s diplomats.
India argues that such allegations are baseless and merely an attempt to divert attention from the Khalistani extremists and hardliners who have been granted refuge in Canada for an extended period. This raises questions about the issue of providing sanctuary to Khalistani militants in Canada, its origins, and why the Canadian Prime Minister has been perceived as adopting a lenient stance on this matter.
What is the Khalistan Movement?
The Khalistan movement emerged after the division of Punjab between India and Pakistan in 1947. A significant part of Punjab went to Pakistan, and a smaller portion remained in India. During the partition, there were significant losses of life and property. Lahore, which had once been the capital of the Sikh empire, became a part of Pakistan.
Subsequently, demands for a separate state for Punjabi-speaking people gained momentum through the Punjabi Suba movement. This marked the first instance of advocating for a separate state based on language. The Akali Dal party was formed, quickly gaining widespread popularity. The demand for a separate Punjab state on linguistic lines was eventually accepted in 1966, leading to the formation of Punjab, Haryana, and the centrally administered union territory of Chandigarh.
During the same period, demands for an independent Sikh state of Khalistan began to emerge. The movement aimed to establish a sovereign Sikh state separate from India. This raised concerns for the Indian government, as it was seen as an attempt to undermine the unity and integrity of the country.
How Did the Khalistan Movement Spread From India to Canada?
Canada is home to one of the world’s largest Sikh populations. In the 1980s, during the peak of the Khalistan movement in Punjab, some Khalistani sympathizers found refuge in Canada. It is alleged that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) played a role in facilitating the movement of Khalistani leaders to Canada, where they continued to promote their cause.
The weak extradition laws in Canada allowed these individuals to operate more openly, leading to increased Khalistani activities within Canadian borders. It is said that ISI saw an opportunity to use the Khalistani movement as a tool against India and supported its growth in Canada.
What Happened Recently?
On June 18, 2023, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Khalistani extremist, was shot dead in Canada near the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia. Nijjar was also the head of the committee managing this gurdwara. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hinted at Indian involvement in Nijjar’s murder, alleging that Canadian security agencies were investigating the possibility of Indian government agents being responsible for the killing. Canadian authorities are currently investigating the potential links to India in Nijjar’s assassination.
In response to these allegations, India’s Ministry of External Affairs strongly refuted the claims made by Canada. India argued that such accusations are unfounded and are meant to divert attention from the Khalistani extremists and hardliners who have been granted refuge in Canada for an extended period. India emphasized that any complicity in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil should be unacceptable.
Amid these developments, a senior Indian diplomat was expelled from Canada, and Canada’s High Commissioner to India was also asked to leave the country. This diplomatic row has strained relations between the two nations, highlighting the complex issues surrounding the Khalistani movement and its impact on bilateral ties.