India’s decision to resume e-visas for Canadian citizens worldwide is a significant step towards restoring travel ties with Canada, which were snapped in September during the diplomatic stand-off following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations that Indian government agents had masterminded the assassination of a Khalistani leader. While India had restored certain categories of the visa last month, e-visa and tourist visas remained under suspension due to the threat to Indian diplomats from Khalistani groups. According to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the restoration of visas for Canadians was due to the “situation becoming more secure”. However, the step does not necessarily mean a restoration of normal ties. After India cancelled visas for Canadians and demanded that Canada cut down its diplomatic strength by two-thirds for “parity purposes”, Canada had flown out more than 40 of its diplomats and their family members and reduced its visa issuance capacity as well. With travel visas curtailed on both sides, business and investment ties too suffered, especially as Canada had already suspended talks for a Free Trade Agreement after the killing of the Khalistani leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar. While Mr. Jaishankar and the Canadian Foreign Minister met each other in the U.S. in September, political ties have virtually shut down.
In addition, a new controversy, sparked by Washington, has emerged over a report that Indian government agencies were plotting to target another Khalistani leader, Sikhs for Justice leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in the U.S. Like Nijjar, Pannun, a U.S.-Canadian dual national, is wanted in India for inciting violence against Indians and Indian diplomats, and for recently issuing a “warning” to travellers not to take “Air India” flights after November 19. This menacing statement harks back to the bombing of Air India Flight 182 out of Montreal, which killed all 329 on board, in 1985. A White House statement confirmed news reports that U.S. officials had raised the issue during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington in June. This indicates that the issue over Khalistani separatists is far from dying down, despite New Delhi’s conversations with western partners at the 2+2 dialogues with the U.S. and Australia, respectively, and Mr. Jaishankar’s recent visit to the U.K. In sharp contrast to the recent past, the government, which had rejected the Canadian allegations as “absurd and motivated”, has been surprisingly accommodating of the U.S.’s allegations. The External Affairs Ministry issued a statement that said India is examining the “U.S. inputs” and would take “necessary follow-up action”. While these are no doubt matters of national security, it is time the government shed some of the secrecy surrounding its dual responses and crafted its future course of action more coherently.