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Will Justin Trudeau’s sharp attack on India over slain Khalistani separatist divide the Global North?

This is a chance for India to remain very firm and convey categorically to the Anglosphere that it will no longer be bullied

The intemperate attack by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on India, where he publicly criticised New Delhi by virtually holding it responsible for the killing of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar has several implications.

By targeting India, Trudeau has not only impaired direct ties with New Delhi, but also forced the Global North, led by the United States to make uncomfortable choices. The path that the US and its allies will take on the issue, will echo across the world, including the rising emerging economies and the Global South.

On a bilateral plain, the New Delhi-Ottawa ties are already plummeting. Both countries have expelled their intelligence officials.

Using unusually strong language, the Ministry of External Affairs expressed “India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities”.
India was responding to the announcement by Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly where she said that an Indian diplomat was being expelled over allegations of India’s involvement in the killing of the Khalistani leader.
“We see this possible breach of sovereignty as completely unacceptable, and so, that is also why we’re coming (out) with this information (of the expulsion of the Indian diplomat) today,” Joly had said at a news conference.

But a spirited Indian statement slammed Canada  for “sheltering terrorists in the guise of sovereignty and human rights.  Canada’s “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,” the statement said. It accused the Canadian Government of “inaction” that has been a “long-standing and continuing concern.

The high-voltage spat, where India has slammed Canada of being an abettor of terrorism has followed a breakdown of India-Canada Free Trade talks, with strained political ties as the subtext.

But the fallout of the blame-game maybe driving fissure within the Global North.

From an Indian perspective the US statement on the issue did not sound neutral. “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau earlier today… It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

Nevertheless, posting on X Derek Grossman, national security and Indo-Pacific analyst at Rand Corp observed that the Joe Biden administration “is in a no-win situation with this latest bombshell of India-Canada news.”

“If it sides with Ottawa, then New Delhi will be up in arms and, once again, question the loyalty of Washington. If it sides with New Delhi, then the U.S. is contradicting a NATO ally,” he wrote.

Washington’s top ally, the UK has earlier slammed Khalistani separatism, despite the group having driven fairly deep roots in Britain. During his visit to India for the G-20 summit, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unequivocally expressed zero-tolerance towards Khalistani violent extremism originating from UK’s soil.  During an interview with ANI, Sunak stressed that no form of extremism or violence like that is acceptable in the UK. “And that’s why we are working very closely with the Indian government to particularly tackle ‘PKE’ Pro-Khalistan Extremism. I don’t think it’s right. Our security minister recently was just in India talking to his counterparts. We have working groups together to share intelligence and information so that we can root out this kind of violent extremism. It’s not right and I won’t tolerate it in the UK,” he added.

Among Canada’s allies, Australia expressed “deep concern” about “these allegations” noting that there were “ongoing investigations into this matter,” though its response could evolve further later.

Also Read: Why Justin Trudeau may have committed a blunder by choosing vote bank politics over ties with a rising India