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

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau under the spotlight (Image courtesy Twitter/@JrGellein)

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau risking ties with India over Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar has all the trappings of deja vu. Trudeau’s father Pierre Trudeau, who was Prime Minister from 1968 to 1979 and then from 1980 to 1984, was also known as a sympathiser of Khalistani terrorists.

It all came out in the open when in 1982, when at the peak of the Khalistani movement, then Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau refuse to handover Babbar Khalsa terrorist Talwinder Parmar to India. Three years later Khalistani terrorists placed a bomb inside Indian plane Kanishka. The mid-air explosion killed 329 people.

“The meek Canadian response to the Khalistani challenge was a frequent target of Indian politicians as far back as 1982, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi complained about it to PM Pierre Trudeau,” says Terry Milewski’s book Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project (2021).

Milewski holds ‘vote bank politics’ as a key reason behind Trudeau senior and junior’s support for decades. “It is a question often asked by Indians: why do Canadian politicians pander to Sikh extremists? The short answer is that it is not easy to look out at a throng of 100,000 on Vaisakhi Day (in Canada), knowing they might vote for you if you keep your mouth shut, and then to open it instead and risk losing the votes”, the book elaborates.

As per the 2021 Canadian census, Sikhs account for 2.1 per cent of Canada’s population, and are the country’s fastest-growing religious group. After India, Canada is home to the largest population of Sikhs in the world. The Sikhs have reached top political and law enforcement positions. Their importance has increased to the level that Khalsitani sympathiser Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party (NDP) is keeping Justin’s government in place.  However, the reasons for Canada may be the same but India is a changed country now.

In addition to taking up the matter sternly with Justin Trudeau on sidelines of G 20 summit recently, India has not just refuted allegations of being connected with alleged murder of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar but also expelled senior diplomat Incharge of Canadian Intelligence in India after a similar action by Canada.

Shortly after the Canadian Prime Minister publicly aired suspicions of  India’s hand behind the killing of Khalistani terrorist Nijjar, the US said it is “deeply concerned” about the allegations.

“The US was deeply concerned about the allegations disclosed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau”, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in an emailed statement. “It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice”, Watson said.

Who is Hardeep Singh Nijjar?

Amidst the diplomatic row what has left the World wondering is who is Hardeep Singh Nijjar that Canada chooses over ties with India. Nijjar was one of the wanted Khalistani terrorists wanted by India. He was Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief and was shot dead by unidentified assailants in June this year outside a Gurdwara in Surrey. The 46-year-old hailed from the village Bhar Singhpura, Phillaur of Jalandhar in Punjab.

He was accused of being the brains behind planting Khalistani separatist Amritpal Singh in Punjab and leading protests after a crackdown on him. Interestingly both Trudeau and Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly called Nijjar a “Canadian citizen” in their statements though according to intelligence agency reports when and how did he get this citizenship remains a big question.

Nijjar arrived in Canada in 1997 with a false identity. He arrived at Pearson Airport in 1997 using a fraudulent passport in the name of “Ravi Sharma”. According to news reports of ‘The Global’ Nijjar told immigration officials that his troubles began in 1990 during police crackdown on insurgency in the Indian state of Punjab.

The Punjab police arrested his brother and father. Furnishing an affidavit Nijjar claimed that he was picked by Punjab police in 1995 and was tortured for the whereabouts of his brother and father. Nijjar further claimed he bribed police with Rs 50,000 and cut his hair to change his appearance. Till 1996, he stayed away from the public eye at a relative’s house in UP. When police reached the relative’s house, Nijjar was not there, and his uncle was arrested. He further insisted that his life was in danger. However, immigration officials did not believe him and said the letter submitted by Nijjar was fabricated.

The information provided by a physician, who claimed to have treated Nijjar after his release from police custody, had spelled body parts wrong, hinting at documents being fabricated. His immigration request was dismissed as unreliable, the report noted. The panel categorically said they did not believe Nijjar was ever arrested and tortured by the police.

After being rejected for asylum, Nijjar took a “plan B” and just eleven days after immigration officials refused his claims, he married a woman from British Columbia who sponsored him to immigrate as her spouse. In his application form, he refused to associate with any group that advocated “armed struggle or violence to reach political, religious or social objectives.” This application was also rejected on the basis of this being “marriage of convenience”. The ‘wife’ was sponsored by a “different” husband in 1997 and had sponsored another man before Nijjar. Nijjar appealed in court against the decision but lost in 2001. He then approached the courts against the decision where his application was dismissed. Though he continued to identify himself as a Canadian citizen, it is unclear when and if he ever got citizenship in Canada.

Also read : India-Canada ties touch new low after Khalistani separatists hold “referendum” in Surrey