Chandigarh, September 20
At the root of the ongoing diplomatic war between India and Canada is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “political affinity with pro-Khalistani forces in his country. “Trudeau’s connections may have worked well for him politically but they have come at the cost of his general popularity and acceptance in his country along with geopolitical and geo-economic fallouts,” analysts say.
“Right from the days of the Kanishka/Air India bombing, Canada’s support to Khalistani elements has been highlighted many times by the Indian government in bilateral talks, via diplomatic channels etc. However, under Justin Trudeau, India-Canada relations seem to have hit the rock bottom,” they add.
Political power of minority population
Sikhs comprise a little over 2.1% of Canada’s population (according to the 2021 census) and apparently wield more power than most immigrants from other parts of the world. Sikh population “doubled in past 20 years” with a large number from the community, mostly from Punjab, migrating there in search of greener pastures—education, career, jobs, etc.
“Canada is home to the largest national Sikh proportion in the world (2.1%) and the second-largest Sikh population in the world, after India. British Columbia has the third-largest Sikh proportion (5.9%), behind only Punjab and Chandigarh in India,” according to reports.
Now the reason why minority Sikhs are able to punch above their weight, according to analysts, is because of someof their inherent qualities--cohesiveness as a community, organisational skill, hard work, fundraising capability and robust networking of vibrant gurdwaras across the country.“A readymade connection with people and donations make Sikhs and gurdwaras an ideal support system for any Canadian politician,” explain analysts.
Gurdwaras in Canada
There is a large network of gurdwaras across Canada, in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto suburbs such as Mississauga and Brampton.
According to Douglas Todd in Vancouver Sun dated March 10, 2018, “The Sikh faction that wins control of any one of the scores of large gurdwaras in Vancouver, Toronto and Calgary has often taken advantage of their access to money and influence to support certain Liberal and NDP candidates.
“The Sikh connection had been working well for Justin Trudeau, as it did for Jean Chretien. Punjabi Canadians, most of whom are Sikh, gave Trudeau a big leg up in nabbing the leadership of the federal Liberal party, which soon led him to the commanding heights of the prime minister’s office.
“But Punjabi/Sikh support has come back to haunt Trudeau’s popularity. It ignited controversy in his February visit to India, where he appeared linked to backers tied to Sikh militants, some wanting to carve out a theocratic homeland in India called Khalistan”.
Notably, during his first official visit to India in 2018, Trudeau received an equal cold shoulder from PM Modi.
Khalistan and politics
According to experts, India has been asking countries like Canada, Australia and the UK to take legal action against Khalistani supporters.
In ‘Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project’ Terry Milewski writes that 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 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.” Pierre Trudeau was Justin Trudeau’s father.
Indian observers say the fact that the trial of the Kanishka bombing case ended in a whimper because of lack of evidence proves the point. Observers say Trudeau's diatribe against India is expected.
With opposition Conservatives breathing down his neck, theCanadian PM is facing “near-unprecedented” rates of disapproval due to high housing and living costs, inflation and related issues in his country. The popularity of Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre is rising, makinghim “Canadians’ top choice for PM”.
Heading a minority government, Trudeau needs the support of NDP headed by Jagmeet Singh ‘Jimmy’ Dhaliwal to survive.The New Democratic Party (NDP) won 24 seats in 2021, making it critical for the survival of the Trudeau government.This may be among the reasons why Trudeau cannot afford to antagonise “someone who is a known Khalistani supporter”, say observers.
India-Canada ethnic ties
From Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major in the British India Army, who is “credited with being the first Sikh settler in Canada” to becoming a powerful community, Sikhs in Canada have come a long way from the time they immigrated to send some of the money they made back home to India.
Over the years, the community has grown, politically and economically, acquiring a good life in their new home.
Whether worsening ties between India and Canada can affect the economic interests of Sikh of Punjab with relatives in Canada remains to be seen but the situation is far from ideal between any two nations having deep ethnic ties.
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