Published On: Wed, Feb 28th, 2018

Overplaying the Khalistan card during the visit of Canadian PM

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kcThe Khalistan card has been overplayed by the Indian Government for the on-going visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, says a retired Indian diplomat.“The Khalistan issue is really exaggerated by the Modi government’s security-dominated assessment of foreign challenges. It is easy to label all Khalistan supporters as agents of Pakistan’s ISI,” writes KC Singh, a former Indian ambassador and foreign service senior officer.The article was published by The Wire as Trudeau, a politician popular with the Sikh community in Canada which has built up a voice in the nation’s politics, is in the midst of a one-week official visit to India.The visit was marred with suggestions that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has snubbed his Canadian counterpart as Trudeau was only received by a junior minister, unlike Modi himself when Israeli PM came calling earlier. He is expected to meet with Modi on Friday.

In the ensuing media discussion, the Khalisan issue has been bandied about to explain why Modi has been seemingly cold towards Trudeau and his visiting team, which includes four Sikh ministers.In the article, KC questioned if India has made the effort to reach out to the Sikhs abroad.“Has the ministry of external affairs in the past two decades seriously tried to reach out to the Sikh diaspora? A Muslim ambassador is considered mandatory in Riyadh. Malayalis are avidly suggested to man Gulf missions as the diaspora is largely from Kerala. The last turban-wearing, Jat Sikh high commissioner to Canada was ex-speaker Gurdial Singh Dhillon in the early 1980s,” he writes in the article entitled ‘Trudeau’s India Visit a Great Opportunity to Bury the Lingering Ghosts of Blue Star’.

For Sikhs, today (21 Feb 2018) was the highlight of Trudeau’s visit to India as he made his way to Amritsar to visit the Harmandir Sahib, easily the most popular Sikh place of worship.KC concluded that Trudeau’s visit provided a great opportunity to bury the last of the ghosts lingering since Blue Star, making references to the Indian army attack on the Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, in 1984.KC, who had served as Indian ambassador to Iran and UAE, retired in May 2008 as the Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs.K.C. Singh: Retired Indian civil servant who served as Indian ambassador to Iran and UAE
In the same article, KC writes:

Indo-Canadian relations have been on an upswing since the two visits by Stephen Harper to India in 2009 and 2012. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Canada, mainly for the G20 meeting in 2010 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi travelled there in 2015. There used be two irritants in bilateral relations from the 1970s. One was sanctions on India’s nuclear programme after India’s “peaceful” nuclear test of 1974. The other has been the strident pro-Khalistan sentiments emanating from the gurudwaras of Canada.

The Khalistan issue, if anything, has got a fresh lease of life after the advent of the Trudeau government, his liberal party benefiting from strong Sikh support. In a total population of about 1.2 million Indian diaspora, the Sikhs number about 470,000 i.e. nearly 40%. They are also concentrated in certain provinces giving them electoral power. Trudeau has included four Sikh ministers including Lt Col Harjit Sajjan as the defence minister. Last year, India was upset over the passage of a private member’s Bill in the Ontario provincial assembly labelling the 1984 massacre of Sikhs as “genocide”, though senior BJP leaders like Rajnath Singh and Sushma Swaraj, while in the opposition, had used the ‘G’ word. This was compounded when the mover of that Bill was honoured in the presence of Prime Minister Trudeau in a Toronto gurudwara.

There is also bad blood between Punjab’s Congress chief minister captain Amarinder Singh and vociferous pro-Khalistani elements in Canada. When he wished to visit Canada before the Punjab elections last year, he was denied a visa on the grounds that Canadian laws did not allow foreign politicians to make partisan appeals in Canada. This ignored what has been standard practice for Punjab politicians of all parties for decades. In any case, Singh thought this had been manoeuvred by Aam Aadmi Party supporters whom he considers as mainly Khalistanis. As a result, Singh refused to meet Canadian defence minister Sajjan when he visited Punjab, having come to India on an official visit.

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