THE year 1983 was the diplomatic apogee of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s career; it also turned out to be her swansong. On the horizon loomed large the Punjab turmoil as several fatal errors of judgment in domestic polity created a point of no return for a section of the state’s proud people, who had made an extraordinary contribution to nation-building.
Whereas the 1985 Kanishka bombing was a ‘Canadian problem’, the murder of a Canadian national in Canada is India’s responsibility!
Thus, when PM Indira’s invite for the seventh summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was positively responded to by a galaxy of more than 100 heads of state or government — from Cuba’s Fidel Castro to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat — in March 1983, it was truly an awe-inspiring sight as the PM of India presided over the august gathering. True, there were no superpowers or participants from the mighty West, but it was meant to be that way. The NAM was a politico-diplomatic platform meant for the developing actors of the global arena.
Amid the spectacle of the much-appreciated summit, there was unrest in parts of the country. Understandably, India’s two mega diplomatic triumphs of 1983 (the NAM summit in Delhi and the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Goa) could not have gone down well with the West, particularly when the Soviet-Afghan war was still raging in the neighbourhood.
It was obvious that India could not be allowed to play a prominent role in global affairs owing partly to Indira Gandhi’s avatar of 1971, when she had defied the US-led West (the Nixon-Kissinger duo’s hatred for her is well documented).
Hence, the volatile situation offered an opportunity to the US, the UK, Canada and their allies to fish in troubled waters, with Pakistan being the frontline state tasked with causing disturbances in India.
The internal issues of India took a concrete shape for the West, which had been operating for the sake of its economic interests through political intrigue in far-flung lands after World War II. ‘Forward deployment of firepower’ has been the fundamental policy of the West to keep developing nations in turmoil.
Indira’s catastrophic miscalculation (Operation Blue Star) and the hidden ‘foreign hand’, to which she often referred during her lifetime, led to her assassination in October 1984.
After her assassination, however, there was little to show that the West’s dislike of India had ebbed. The Air India Flight 182 bombing happened on June 23, 1985, killing all 329 people aboard off Ireland’s coast. It brought into sharp focus the irresponsible role played by the Canadian Government. The investigation revealed that two simultaneous attacks were planned against India’s national carrier with the objective of killing the passengers and the crew (one failed as the bomb exploded at the Tokyo airport). In 2005, then Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin described the AI-182 tragedy with a twisted logic: “The bombing is a Canadian problem, not a foreign problem. The flight may have been Air India’s, but this is a Canadian tragedy.”
Fast-forward to 2023 — the New Delhi-hosted G20 summit has stood out as a major diplomatic success for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a strange coincidence reminiscent of the 1983-84 developments, rumblings of terror are audible again. There is a diplomatic confrontation over a murder in Canada. However, Canada seems to have changed its politico-diplomatic stand. Thus, whereas the June 1985 bombing was a ‘Canadian problem’, the murder of a Canadian national in Canada is India’s responsibility! How bizarre is that?
No doubt, every murder deserves condemnation and the culprit needs to be brought to justice. But it is unprecedented for a PM to make a brazen allegation against a friendly foreign government on the floor of Parliament. Was Canadian PM Justin Trudeau declaring a war on New Delhi?
Canada is a democratic country with an exemplary record of international diplomacy. Nevertheless, it needs to remember that when there is a sudden dip in bilateral cordiality between two democracies, it can very well result in unforeseen adversity — much to the advantage of the detractors of democracy. Mutual reciprocation or retaliation are two sides of the same coin. Hence, there’s no room for rabble-rousing at a time when the world is facing huge problems in virtually all critical sectors, affecting crores of people.
Canada knows very well that India has been facing acts of terrorism in one form or another since Independence; for the past several decades, India’s western neighbour has been relentlessly waging a proxy war. The rot has spread to three sectors of India — the North-East, North and West — due to the undemocratic policies of the Communist Party-ruled China and the army-controlled Pakistan. It, therefore, doesn’t behove a Western democracy like Canada to needlessly cross swords with a prominent democracy of Asia.
Moderation and circumspection, rather than confrontation and combat, are warranted. Discord does not bode well for the diplomatic discourse of the two democracies. Enough damage has already been done. It’s time for a ceasefire.
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