Who Was Hardeep Nijjar, Khalistani Leader at Centre of India-Canada Standoff?

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau alleged that India may be behind the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

3 min read

The murder of pro-Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a resident of Jalandhar's Bharsingh Pura village who moved to Canada in the late 1990s, has taken centre-stage in a standoff between the Indian and Canadian governments.

This comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that his government is investigating whether the Indian government had a role in the assassination of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief. The allegation has, however, been vehemently denied by India.

Nijjar (45) was gunned down outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, by two unidentified assailants on 18 June this year, leading to uproar among pro-Khalistani groups in Canada and across the world.

Who Was Hardeep Singh Nijjar?

A plumber by profession, Nijjar was associated with the banned Indian separatist group, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), and climbed its ranks to the 'number 2' position over the years.

He first became involved in pro-Khalistan activities in Canada after joining the Jagtar Singh Tara-led Babbar Khalsa International. Later, he formed his own group called the Khalistan Tiger Force and played an active role in strengthening Khalistani cells across India. This led to at least 10 FIRs being lodged against him.

Over the years, India conveyed its strong concerns regarding Nijjar to the Canadian government. In 2018, former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also handed over a list of wanted persons to Trudeau, which included Nijjar's name, according to India Today.


Cases against Hardeep Singh Nijjar:

  • In 2022, the Punjab Police had sought Nijjar's extradition, as he was wanted in a number of alleged terror cases in the state – including the 2007 Ludhiana blast case in which six people were killed and over 50 injured.

  • He was also charged in 2015 for allegedly "targeting" Hindu leaders in India. The allegation against him was that he organised a training camp to instruct a man named Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal, who was later sent to Punjab to target Shiv Sena leaders.

  • In 2018, India's National Investigation Agency said that it was probing Nijjar's alleged involvement in the murder of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leaders in Punjab.

  • Three years later, Nijjar's name featured among four people in a chargesheet filed by the NIA in connection with the conspiracy to murder a Hindu priest named Kamaldeep Sharma in January 2021. A reward of Rs 10 lakh was announced for any information that would lead to his arrest.

Referendum & Widespread Influence

Nijjar also played a central role in organising a pro-Khalistan referendum in Canada's Brampton in September 2022 to determine whether Sikhs residing in different countries would back the formation of an independent homeland for the community. Khalistan sympathisers claimed that over 100,000 people participated in the referendum.

He had widespread influence not only in pro-Khalistan circles, but in the larger Sikh community in Canada as well – having served as as the president of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey and getting re-elected to the post in 2020.

Nijjar in one of his interviews just a few days before his killing hinted towards his death. In an interview with Surrey-based radio broadcaster and journalist Gurpreet Singh, he claimed that his name was on his enemy’s “hit list”. (Gurpreet’s Twitter account had been withheld in India.)

However, he did not name his enemy. Instead, he pointed toward the patterns of the killings, saying, “You see it has been just a month, and look at the killings. We (Sikhs) need to be vigilant. I am already on the enemy’s target (list)."

(With inputs from India Today and Hindustan Times.)

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