Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen of Indian descent, died tragically on June 18, 2023, when he was attacked by two masked shooters outside his Sikh temple in a suburb of Vancouver. This horrible incident has raised a lot of questions and caused tension between Canada and India on the diplomatic front. According to the charges, the Indian government, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is aggravating already tense ties. The complicated subject of the Khalistan movement, a separatist cause that has simmered for decades, is at the root of these tensions.
The Khalistan movement, which aims to create an independent Sikh state in the Indian Punjab area, was strongly supported by Hardeep Singh Nijjar. His support for Khalistan peaked when he allegedly arranged an unauthorized vote in India; this action eventually led to his death on Canadian territory. With India’s National Investigation Agency proposing a sizable reward for information on Nijjar’s actions as early as July 2022, the Indian government’s position on Khalistan is clear-cut.
After India and Pakistan gained their independence in 1947, the Khalistan movement first emerged. During the discussions for state separation, some Sikhs want their own country since they felt they were the majority in Punjab but the minority in India. Their hopes were not fulfilled, which resulted in a bloody uprising in the 1970s and 1980s.
The effects of Operation Blue Star, when India cleared insurgents from the Golden Temple complex, are still felt strongly by Sikhs all over the globe. This operation resulted in a considerable number of fatalities as well as the damage of their holy sanctuary. In 1984, anti-Sikh riots, especially in Delhi, were sparked by the death of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, which resulted in the targeting, killing, and widespread violence against Sikhs.
Small pockets of support for Khalistan still exist among the Sikh diaspora, notably in nations like Canada, the UK, Australia, and the US, even if it has declined in India. The Indian government views the Khalistan movement as a security danger and has taken action both at home and abroad to repress Sikh separatists.
Nijjar, who is originally from Punjab, immigrated to Canada in 1997 and set up residence there with his wife and two boys. Despite the fact that Nijjar was seen as a supporter of Khalistan by many Sikh groups, the Indian government designated him as a terrorist because of his leadership position within the militant outfit “Khalistan Tiger Force.” At India’s request, a global arrest warrant was issued for Nijjar in 2014, and he was formally classified as a terrorist under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
When Nijjar became the head of a temple in Surrey, British Columbia, in 2019, he became a vocal supporter of Sikh separatism, which increased his standing among supporters of Khalistan. Additionally, he joined forces with Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), and he led the 2020 Khalistan Referendum campaign. Surprisingly, Canadian officials have not yet made any arrests in connection with the case since his death on June 18.
According to reports, Canadian security officials are looking into “credible allegations of a potential link” between the assassination of Nijjar and operatives of the Indian government. Relationships between Canada and India have been severely strained as a result of both countries’ claims and denials of participation in the Khalistan movement.
At the G20 conference in New Delhi, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau brought up the suspicions surrounding Nijjar’s death and warned Modi that any Indian government participation would be unacceptable. Prime Minister Trudeau highlighted in a speech before the Canadian parliament that “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty” and he pleaded for the Indian government’s assistance.
India, in turn, expressed its complaints during the G20 conference, with Prime Minister Modi condemning Canada for how it handled Sikh demonstrations brought on by the killing of Nijjar. The tensions between the two countries were highlighted by Modi’s unwillingness to interact with Trudeau beyond a quick informal chat on the sidelines.
After a prominent Indian intelligence officer was removed from Canada for the murder of Nijjar, India retaliated by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat. India justified its move by citing worries about intervention in Indian domestic affairs by Canadian diplomats and the protection of anti-Indian actions.
In addition, India briefly stopped issuing visas to Canadians due to “security threats” to its ambassadors there. Before Canada made its formal declaration that it will investigate the charges against India, the nation indefinitely postponed its trade mission to India.
The situation facing Canada’s Western allies is unpleasant as a result of the diplomatic crisis. They haven’t directly backed up Canada’s claims, but they haven’t completely denied them either. Geopolitical factors are important in this situation. India is an appealing partner for Western countries, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom, due to its expanding economic might and its geopolitical significance in the Indo-Pacific region.
For instance, in order to increase trade prospects, Britain is aggressively negotiating a free trade agreement with India. Other considerations are subordinated to the goal to have a solid economic partnership with India. As a consequence, the spokesperson for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made it clear that Nijjar’s murder would not be discussed during trade negotiations, stressing that these talks are entirely focused on economic issues.
The murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, despite the lack of conclusive proof, has soured ties between Canada and India. Since 2010, trade negotiations and diplomatic attempts have been underway, although they are now in limbo. In this tense stalemate, where both sides accuse the other of undermining national sovereignty and security, diplomats and officials have been reduced to mere props.
It is becoming clearer as the situation develops that if tensions rise much higher, both Canada and India stand to suffer. Beyond the two countries, the effects of this diplomatic schism influence commerce, global collaboration, and regional stability. A calm and careful approach to addressing this situation is essential given India’s expanding importance on the international scene. The final outcome of this complicated and delicate subject can only be predicted with time.