India, Canada in conversation on parity of diplomatic staff: MEA

MEA spokesperson indicates that India expects Canada to reduce the number of its diplomats stationed here; U.S. embassy dismisses report on downturn in India-U.S. ties due to row with Canada

October 05, 2023 10:55 pm | Updated October 06, 2023 11:37 am IST - NEW DELHI

A diplomatic car enters the front gate of High Commission of India October 3, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada. File image for representation.

A diplomatic car enters the front gate of High Commission of India October 3, 2023 in Ottawa, Canada. File image for representation. | Photo Credit: AFP

India and Canada are in conversation about attaining “parity” in the diplomatic staff posted in each other’s missions, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday.

During his weekly press briefing, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi reiterated India’s charge of Canadian “interference” in India’s internal affairs and indicated that India expects Canada to reduce the total number of its diplomats stationed here.

“Insofar as the discussions on parity... Given the much higher presence of Canadian diplomats here and their continued interference in our internal affairs, discussions are ongoing on the modalities of achieving this,” Mr. Bagchi said, adding, “I would assume that there would be a reduction.”

Diplomatic security concerns

The official’s remarks came days after the Financial Times reported that New Delhi has asked Ottawa to withdraw 41 of its diplomats stationed in India by October 10. The newspaper had also reported that India would withdraw the diplomatic immunity of the slotted Canadian officials if Ottawa failed to take them back by October 10.

India’s demand on flying back most of the Canadian diplomats stationed in Canadian missions in India came against the backdrop of its insistence on ensuring the safety and security of its diplomats in Indian missions in Canada. On September 21, India cited “politically condoned hate crimes”, and announced the suspension of normal consular operations in its missions in Canada.

Reiterating India’s demand on ensuring the safety of its diplomats in the High Commission in Ottawa and other consulates in Canada, Mr. Bagchi said, “We have been taking up concerns of security of our diplomats and premises from people there who are wanted by our security and our judicial systems, and we will continue to do that as that is a continued conversation. The issue is about security, and our diplomats are safe and the community is not targeted.”

Tense bilateral relations

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, however, has maintained that Ottawa is not trying to “escalate” the situation, which erupted when he presented the findings of the investigation into the June 18 murder of Khalistan Tiger Force leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar and blamed Indian agents for the incident. With regard to the Financial Times’ report, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said that Canada is in contact with the Indian government, and is arguing that diplomats should be present on the ground to deal with the tense bilateral relations between the two sides.

At the same time, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, during his visit to New York, had cautioned that the “permissiveness” prevailing in Canada was facilitating threats to Indian interests, in his opinion.

Impact on India-U.S. ties

The issue acquired additional seriousness on Thursday, after U.S.-based publication Politico reported that that the U.S. Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti has cautioned his “in-country” team about the possibility of a downturn in India-U.S. ties because of the spat between New Delhi and Ottaway over Nijjar’s killing.

A U.S embassy spokesperson later dismissed the reports, saying, “Ambassador Garcetti is working hard every day to deepen the partnership between the people and governments of the United States and India. As his personal engagement and public schedule demonstrates, Ambassador Garcetti and the US Mission to India are working every day to advance the important, strategic, and consequential partnership we have with India.”

The MEA spokesperson refused to discuss the matter at the briefing.

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