The recent event of the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent figure of the Khalistani movement in Canada, has renewed a decades-old diplomatic dispute between India and Canada regarding the presence and activity of Khalistani separatists in the latter country. This report seeks to delve into the intricate web of history, politics, and evolving dynamics of the Khalistani movement and its influence in the relations between the two nations.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar: The Man and His Legacy
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a native of the village Bhar Singh Pura in Jalandhar, Punjab, relocated to Canada in 1997, where he worked as a plumber and raised a family. Nijjar’s association with the Khalistani movement, which seeks a separate Sikh state in India, deepened over the years, culminating in his leadership roles in banned groups such as the Khalistan Tiger Force and Sikhs for Justice.
He was implicated in several significant criminal activities in India, including the 2007 Ludhiana blast and the murder of Rulda Singh in 2009. His death in June 2023, outside a Gurudwara in Surrey, sparked a diplomatic spat between India and Canada, with accusations flying high on both sides.
The Khalistan Movement: From Inception to the Canadian Diaspora
The Khalistan movement began gaining traction in the early 1970s, with the first declaration of a separate Sikh state appearing in The New York Times in October 1971. The most prominent figure to emerge during this period was Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who played a crucial role in mobilizing support for the cause.
However, it was the military operation ordered by the Indian government in 1984 to remove armed militants from the Golden Temple, the holiest Sikh shrine, which led to a surge in support for the movement, both in India and globally.
Operation Bluestar and the subsequent assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi marked a period of intense violence and disturbance in Punjab. Despite dwindling support in India in the following years, the movement found refuge and resurgence among the Sikh diaspora, especially in countries like Canada, the US, and the UK.
The Canadian Chapter: Political Dynamics and Community Concerns
The Khalistan movement’s presence in Canada dates back to over 40 years, with Prime Ministers of both nations addressing the issue since the early 1980s. While the movement has lost much of its steam in India, it still finds a voice in certain sections of the Sikh diaspora in Canada, a country home to the second-largest Sikh population globally. This demographic has not only flourished but also embraced significant roles in the country’s political landscape.
Recent events, including a parade in Brampton that appeared to celebrate the assassination of Indira Gandhi and the proclaimed support for Khalistan by over 100,000 people in a “referendum” organized by Sikhs for Justice, have brought the Khalistan issue back into the limelight, eliciting strong reactions from the Indian government.
The Canadian government’s stance, perceived as tolerant towards Khalistani supporters, has been a recurring point of contention in Indo-Canadian relations. Terry Milewski, in his book “Blood for Blood: Fifty Years of the Global Khalistan Project”, traces this tolerance to vote bank politics, with Sikh Canadians forming a vital electoral demographic. He points out a lack of connection with the ground realities of Punjab as a reason for continued support for Khalistan among a section of the diaspora.
The Nijjar Incident: Unraveling Indo-Canadian Relations
The recent death of Nijjar, who had been designated a terrorist by India, has brought the Khalistan issue to the forefront once again. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged “credible” links between Nijjar’s murder and Indian agents, a claim vociferously denied by the Indian government, escalating to reciprocal expulsion of diplomats. The Indian government expressed its long-standing concerns about Khalistani extremists finding a safe haven in Canada, alleging that this has fostered a range of illegal activities. In return, Trudeau emphasized the unacceptable violation of Canada’s sovereignty if the involvement of Indian agents was proven true.
National Stands and Political Backing
While the Indian government has rejected Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd and motivated”, it found support in Congress, India’s opposition party. Jairam Ramesh, Congress’ communications in-charge, emphasized an uncompromising fight against terrorism, insisting on prioritizing the nation’s