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Beyond Khalistan

By focusing only on this issue, New Delhi risks alienating the Sikh diaspora

India-Canada ties have deteriorated in recent years, especially given the view that the current Justin Trudeau administration is soft on individuals and organisations that support the demand for Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland. Members of Mr. Trudeau’s Cabinet, especially Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan, have been accused of having links with Sikh separatists. When Mr. Sajjan visited India in April 2017, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh refused to meet him for this reason. Similarly, Mr. Trudeau received the cold shoulder during his India visit in February 2018. When Mr. Singh met Mr. Trudeau, their discussion was on the Khalistan issue, rather than on areas of mutual cooperation. Recently, Mr. Trudeau drew the ire of the Indian government when a report on terror threats avoided the words ‘Khalistani extremism’.

There is no doubt that some overseas Sikhs support a separate Sikh homeland, and that there is not much appetite for the same in Punjab. However, it is important to not link criticism of India on human rights issues, such as the Sikh pogrom of 1984 and extrajudicial killings in the 1980s and 1990s, with Sikh separatism. The Indian media, the government and even politicians in Punjab need to realise that Sikhs based in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. may have different political views. Similarly, non-violent support for a cause cannot be labelled as a militant activity.

If there is evidence of support for any violent activity, New Delhi and Canada must work together to tackle the problem. By focusing only on the Khalistan issue, New Delhi risks alienating the Sikh diaspora. India should instead reach out to the Sikh diaspora in a year when Sikhs and all other followers of Guru Nanak will be commemorating his 550th birth anniversary.

Critics of the Canadian government must also bear in mind that like all relationships, this is a multi-layered one. While New Delhi may be uncomfortable with the Canadian government’s approach towards the activities of certain Sikh hard-liners, it is important to bear in mind that for the year 2017, Indian students received well over 25% (over 80,000) of the available study permits. In 2017, well over 40% of the 86,022 people who received invitations for permanent residency were Indians. During 2018, this rose by a staggering 13% to 41,000.

It is important to handle ties with Canada with nuance. First, members of the Sikh diaspora and Sikh politicians who are vocal on human rights issues shouldn’t be labelled Khalistani sympathisers. Second, it should be remembered that the New Delhi-Ottawa relationship goes well beyond the Khalistan issue.

The writer is a New Delhi-based policy analyst associated with O.P. Jindal Global University

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Printable version | Jul 6, 2020 10:05:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/beyond-khalistan/article27004704.ece

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