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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Unless Bharat hits where it hurts Canada, Trudeau not likely to relent

 Though India-Canada relations have seen many lows — such as Ottawa’s sanctions on New Delhi after the 1974 and 1998 nuclear tests and the bombing of Air India Kanishka in June 1985 — over the years, they have touched a new low in the wake of the killing of Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Surrey gurdwara in June.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped a bombshell on September 18 when he alleged in the House of Commons that the agents of the Indian government were behind the killing of Nijjar.

As he made these allegations, Canada suspended the on-going trade talks on a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, expelled Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai and asked India to cooperate in the Nijjar investigation.

India denied the allegations and hit back by expelling 41 diplomats and stopping visa services in Canada.

Trudeau has upped the ante since then, making periodic statements on India’s alleged role in the Nijjar killing even as New Delhi has repeatedly said that it has not been given any credible evidence by Ottawa.

The Canadian Prime Minister has used the indictment of Indian national Nikhil Gupta in an alleged plot to kill Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun to support his allegation.

The latest twist in this entire episode — that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is about to arrest two persons in connection with the Nijjar killing — is an ominous sign that India-Canada relations are not going to improve anytime soon.

Whatever these two persons reveal after their arrest and how much more it will harm the bilateral relationship will be known only in the weeks to come.

Apart from the argument in some Indo-Canadian quarters here that Canada and the US are weaponising the Khalistan issue because of India’s Ukraine policy and its strategic autonomy, Trudeau’s somewhat personal grudge against New Delhi about what happened during his 2018 and September visits to India may be playing into this diplomatic crisis.

But despite this crisis, Canada is getting what it wants from India — thousands and thousands of new immigrants and students. For Ottawa, trade with India is not a big deal.

New Indian immigrants and students bring in billions of dollars into Canada. Indian students keep hundreds and hundreds of private colleges running and provide low-wage labour for Walmart, Tim Hortons, Amazon, and security companies. The majority of frontline workers at these companies in Canada today are Indian students.

If Indian students were to stop coming here, hundreds of private colleges will shut and Walmart, Tim Hortons and Amazon will struggle to find low-wage workers.

Not surprisingly, Canadian study visas for Indian students are being issued faster now despite the expulsion of 41 Canadian diplomats.

Unless India hits where it matters by putting in place new measures, Ottawa won’t relent and rein in anti-Indian elements.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)

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