Last Updated: September 20, 2023, 07:21 IST
Washington D.C., United States of America (USA)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim of a “potential link” between Indian government agents and the assassination of a Khalistani leader has been dismissed by US expert Michael Rubin. During a panel discussion at the Hudson Institute think-tank, Rubin termed Trudeau’s claim as a “shameless and cynical action.” He urged the United States to avoid involvement in this matter, emphasising that Trudeau’s stance could inadvertently support those who view the Khalistani movement as driven by personal gain and ego, rather than legitimate concerns.
Canada and India have expelled a senior diplomat each after Trudeau alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, in Surrey in June. Nijjar, the chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and one of India’s most-wanted terrorists, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen outside a gurdwara in Surrey in the western Canadian province of British Columbia on June 18.
In a strong response, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) outrightly rejected claims made by Trudeau as “absurd”. The MEA urged the Government of Canada to take prompt and effective legal action against all anti-India elements operating from their soil. “Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” it added.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said Canada is not trying to provoke India by suggesting its agents were linked to the murder of a Khalistani terrorist but Ottawa wants New Delhi to address the issue adequately. “The government of India needs to take this matter with the utmost seriousness. We are doing that, we are not looking to provoke or escalate,” the Canadian prime minister told reporters.
What is striking about Trudeau’s “shameless action and cynical action” is that while he’s making a statement now, the killing of Karima Baluch that was carried out allegedly with Pakistani assistance is a police matter and has not been taken to the Prime Minister’s office, Rubin said. “So, the question then becomes why the discrepancy if not populist political posturing? … That might help Justin Trudeau in the long term but that’s not what leadership is. We really need our politicians on both sides of the aisle here and in Canada, (there is a) need to be much more responsible because they’re playing with fire,” he said.
Rubin believes that some outside hands are trying to revive the Khalistan movement. “I don’t think it will work,” he said, adding he would not want the US to give legitimacy to this sort of ”cynical manoeuvres by outside powers”.
“It would be a mistake to suddenly see a separatist movement and argue that this is legitimate. And I worry less so with the United States but more so with what we see in Canada right now with Justin Trudeau, that same knee-jerk reaction playing into the hands of people who are looking at the Khalistani movement as a movement for ego, a movement for profit and for politics,” he said. After Trudeau’s remarks in Parliament, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly confirmed that she has ordered the expulsion of “a senior Indian diplomat”.
Jassee Singh, founder and chairman of Sikhs of America, said the Khalistani movement does not represent the voice of the majority of Sikhs in the US. “Sikhs in India are not in favour of Khalistan. Today, Sikhs are in the Indian Army defending the nation, whether it’s against China or Pakistan,” he said. ”There are one million Sikhs living here (in the US) and only a few of them, a very, very small percentage shows up for protests demanding Khalistan,” he said.
Dinsha Mistree, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, said if Canada keeps pushing this narrative, then “we can see some big challenges there”. He also underlined the importance of intelligence sharing. “For me, it is just very surprising. Again, the San Francisco consulate is not too far away. I don’t think any arrests have been made since this consulate was vandalised twice. If you don’t stop these smaller things, (then there is a) danger that they might snowball into bigger things,” he said.
Earlier in July, India’s consulate in San Francisco came under attack from Khalistan supporters, who tried to set the diplomatic facility on fire, in the second such act of violence within months. A video by Khalistan supporters, dated July 2 posted on X, showed the act of arson at the Indian Consulate. The video, with the words “violence begets violence” emblazoned over it, also showed news articles related to the death of Nijjar.
(With PTI inputs)