Nijjar Conundrum Haunts Canada

4 Min
Nijjar Conundrum Haunts Canada

by Rattan Saldi

The issue of Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination on June 18, 2023 outside a Gurudwara at Surrey, near Vancouver continues to be a thorn in the Canada – India relations. The two countries have witnessed strains in their relations since the lid was first blown off in September last year.   Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleging that an Indian agent had a potential link in the Nijjar killing. He did not substantiate his allegation though. India termed his charge as absurd.

Facing a criminal case, Nijjar had absconded from Punjab in 1997 on a fake passport and sought asylum in Canada. He married a Canadian woman and was granted citizenship despite India demanding his deportation on several occasions.

Nijjar was designated a terrorist by New Delhi for his anti-India activities on July 1, 2020 along with several other militants, including Gurpatwant Singh Pannun who has been spearheading the Khalistani from the United States.   Interpol had issued a Red Corner alert for Nijjar.

The Nijjar murder issue has blown into a big issue of sorts   between India and Canada with both countries expelling one diplomat each. And the Canadian mission in the Indian capital has been down sized to be at par with the Indian mission in the Canadian capital in terms of staff strength.  

The United States has since made a startling revelation about a plot to kill Pannun, a hardcore militant and head of the outfit, Sikhs for Justice, SFJ.   

The issue of Pannun’s aborted killing on American soil was raised with Indian government at senior-most levels and the United States takes it very seriously, the White House was quoted as saying in media dispatches from Washington.

The American Federal Prosecutors have filed a sealed cover indictment in a New York district court against an alleged perpetrator of the plot to kill Pannun. The Khalistani holds dual citizenship of the United States and Canada. It is for this reason the US Justice Department is said to be debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada completes its probe into Nijjar murder.

India’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) has slapped cases against Pannun under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, UAPA, for his video message on social media threatening to attack Air India flights on or after November 19.

The day marks the birthday of Indira Gandhi, who as Prime Minister had ordered Operation Blue Star to flush our Khalistani militants holed in the Golden Temple, the pre-eminent spiritual site of Sikhism, in the city of Amritsar.

Subsequently, Pannun issued a new threat to blow up the Indian Parliament on or before December 13; the day marked the anniversary of the first ever attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. Two Pak-based Islamist militant groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, LeT, and Jaish-e-Mohammed, JeM, perpetrated the attack.

Pannun is spearheading his worldwide campaign for the past five years plus. His SFJ is conducting what it dubs as a referendum among people of the Sikh diaspora settled in various countries for establishing a Sikh homeland carved out of India’s Punjab province. He has already held the so-called referendum in U.K, Australia and Canada and plans to hold it in the United States two days after India’s next Republic Day.

No results of the already held referendum have been made public but the response was almost negligible. “Only a microscopic hardcore radical Sikhs have responded and that was the reason why the results have been withheld’, say media reports from the West.

The Referendum had been rejected by U.K. and Canada even before it was held describing it as against democratic norms, and smacked subversive activities against a democratic nation.

Viewed against this backdrop, the American disclosures of an alleged plot against Pannun sounds bizarre.  It has, however, emboldened Justin Trudeau to blow hot and cold against India while seeking Indian cooperation in the efforts to identify the Nijjar.  He also appears piqued by India’s readiness to set up a high-level inquiry in response to the American disclosures.  He is not hiding his ‘disappointment’ though.

New Delhi is, however, clear in its stand. The US Federal agencies have provided actionable information in the alleged plot to kill Pannun but Canada has not offered any evidence so far in the Nijjar case.

Moreover, as the External Affairs Ministry spokesman Foreign Ministry spokesman put it, the nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gun running and extremists at an international level is “a serious issue”.

It is precisely for this reason that high-level enquiry committee has been constituted on American complaint. The main issue for India with Canada is activities of anti-India elements in that country. Also, the free-run for elements advocating terrorism, extremism and violence. 

Put simply, the real issue between India and Canada is the space given by Ottawa to extremism and radicalism.

Significantly, India has shared this perception with some of the Five Eye countries that share intelligence with each other on security related matters.

Canada has much to answer as to why Khalistanis are allowed to allowed to get away with their violent acts. On Nov 26, 2023, for instance, Sikh radicals gathered before the Lakshmi Narain temple adjacent to the Gurudwara in Surrey, (where Nijjar was killed on June 18) and raised anti-India slogans. They were stopped by a group of Hindus and Sikhs from entering or desecrating the temple.  Such incidents continue at almost regular intervals without any noticeable action by the authorities.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will do well to stop fretting and fuming against India. He should take a cue from his next-door neighbour, USA, and provide New Delhi with actionable evidence in the Nijjar murder, which is a heinous crime.

Canada today is home to a large Indian immigrant population; And Canadian Universities are the preferred destination of Indian students in search of higher studies. Public spat with India may or may not get him any brownie points in the electoral sweep stakes. But it will certainly spoil the ties between the two countries.

As pointed out at the outset, there are no takers for the Khalistan movement in Punjab. Empirical evidence shows hardcore radical elements are keeping the bogey alive in the countries of their residence aided and abetted by agencies inimical to India.

It is time Canada, United Kingdom, United States and other Western nations revisit the space given to violent activities, and campaigns against India, and Indian missions or Indian religious places. ###