Canadian eyes are finally opening to the menace of the Khalistanis.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in his second avatar, seems wiser to the separatists living in the cool comfort of Canada and advocating violence against India. Most importantly, his minority government is distancing itself from the so-called ‘referendum 2020 for Khalistan’.
The bogus ‘referendum’ by the US-based ‘Sikhs For Justice’ group was always a lot of hot air – and with the pandemic bursting the balloon completely, traction for trash talk is low. Canadian members of parliament are increasingly embarrassed by Khalistani voices. At least in public.
The Slow Realisation That Being ‘Khalistan Central’ Is Not Good For Canada
It took a lot of pushback from India, and a little self-realisation by Trudeau and the Khalistan-friendly liberals, to face the ugly truth of diaspora politics.
Trudeau’s monumentally disastrous 2018 trip to India in which a convicted Sikh terrorist was part of his entourage also clarified the mind some.
It’s slowly dawning on the ruling Liberal Party that a small group of law-breaking Canadian Sikhs managed to ruin bilateral relations with India in recent years. No senior Indian official bothered to visit, and slowly, the clueless in Ottawa began to realise that being ‘Khalistan Central’ was not good for Canada.
That a minority within a minority shouldn’t be allowed to intimidate, traumatise and control the half-a-million strong Sikh community, most of whom don’t support extremism.
Now Canada appears to be taking some belated action. It helped that India and Canada signed an anti-terrorism cooperation agreement in February 2018.
To say that Canada’s learning curve on Khalistan has been long and tortuous would be an understatement. It went through complete denial, on to huffy-puffy, tone-deaf lectures on ‘freedom of expression’, and into politically correct corridors, to finally arrive at a more tenable position. It will be long before the inflated importance of Khalistanis is minimised in Canadian politics, but a few things are changing.
- It’s slowly dawning on the ruling Liberal Party that a small group of law-breaking Canadian Sikhs managed to ruin bilateral relations with India in recent years.
- No senior Indian official bothered to visit, and slowly, the clueless in Ottawa began to realise that being ‘Khalistan Central’ was not good for Canada.
- To say that Canada’s learning curve on Khalistan has been long and tortuous would be an understatement.
- For its part, the Indian government has stressed it can’t be business as usual on the question of Sikh extremism.
- Earlier this month, the government designated nine Sikh extremists living abroad as ‘terrorists’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act or UAPA 2019.
Question of Sikh Extremism: Indian Govt Has Stressed That It Can’t Be ‘Business As Usual’
At least two Canada-based Khalistanis with links to Pakistan’s ISI are now on a no-fly list. Charges against Bhagat Singh Brar and Parvkar Singh Dulai by Canada’s Security Intelligence Service include planning attacks in India, siphoning gurdwara funds, weapons procurement and radicalising youth.
Brar had gone to Pakistan in 2015 to visit his father – also a Khalistani – and to deliver a cache of weapons for an attack across the border.
For its part, the Indian government has stressed it can’t be business as usual on the question of Sikh extremism.
Earlier this month, the government designated nine Sikh extremists living abroad as ‘terrorists’ under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act or UAPA 2019. The law now allows the naming of individuals as ‘terrorists’ for the first time, bringing it in line with anti-terrorism laws in major countries.
The nine include Vancouver-based Hardeep Singh Nijjar and New York-based Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The noisy Pannun is behind ‘referendum 2020’, but these days he is making increasingly desperate moves writing to Chinese President Xi Jinping to praise his army’s intrusions into Indian territory, and to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to ask for help in the UN Security Council. These ISI-prompts to Pannun must qualify as beyond stupid.
Trudeau Is a Unique Combination Of Elitism & Cluelessness
The ISI masterminds are clearly at a loss – the referendum is suffering a slow death by pandemic, but they can’t blame iron brother China for spawning the virus. The pandemic prevented Baisakhi parades in Canada this year, which means there were no politicians to flaunt, no floats and posters of Bhindranwale to incite the young.
Lest one forget, Trudeau has attended Khalsa Day events with Khalistani flags and separatist posters in the past with zero sensitivity to what it might do to bilateral relations.
Now that the world’s love affair with Trudeau is largely over – what with three corruption scandals swirling around – one can say he is a unique combination of elitism and cluelessness. But hope rests on the promise of a Trudeau 2.0 being better than 1.0.
At one level, Canadians are so besotted with their own sense of goodness – and they are an extremely friendly people – that they can’t see dangers lurking all around. India’s newly-arrived Indian High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria is busy trying to sensitise the Canadians to links between the Khalistanis and Pakistan’s ISI. Bisaria knows a thing or two about Pakistan’s unsavoury ways – he was India’s envoy there until August 2019, and was closely involved in the opening of the Kartarpur corridor.
Indian High Commission Is Taking A More Pro-Active Stance Against Incitement Of Violence Against India
The Indian High Commission is also taking a more pro-active stance against incitement of violence against India on certain ethnic radio stations and TV channels in Canada. It recently lodged a strong protest with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission against PTN24, a Punjabi channel, for a programme aired on 26 April brimming with vitriol and glorification of Sikh assassins of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The programme featured Santokh Singh Khela, a man who served six years in prison for plotting to blow up an Air India flight from New York in 1986.
His conviction was overturned on technical grounds. Let’s see if the regulator takes any action against PTN24 because Canadians have a high tolerance for such nonsense.
Only last year, Trudeau’s government back-pedalled an intelligence assessment released in December 2018, which included a short paragraph on ‘Sikh (Khalistani) Extremism’. It named Babbar Khalsa International and the International Sikh Youth Federation as two terrorist organisations. All hell broke loose in the Liberal Party with Sikh members claiming that their entire religion had been besmirched.
Trudeau and company buckled quickly and changed the language in April 2019, essentially saying nothing in the end.
The term ‘Sikh extremism’ was removed entirely and apologies were tendered in the right quarters. Trudeau was once again invited for the Baisakhi celebrations.
Real Progress Will Be Made Only When Canadian Political Parties Change Their Secretive Ways
Baisakhi is not only an important date in Canada’s political calendar but also a favourite weapon of the Bhindranwale-adoring extremist fringe to use when needed. There is no question that because of strong community links and Canada’s easily subverted ‘pay-to-play’ nomination system for choosing parliamentary candidates, the Sikh community has amassed disproportionate influence within the system.
But then the system allows for such hijacking by special interest groups and Sikhs have become one of the “most” special interest groups. The same system allows extremist voices – a minority within a minority – unfair advantage.
Sikhs in Canada are only 1.4 percent of the total population of 37.5 million but they are 5 percent of the parliament and 8 percent of Trudeau’s cabinet.
The left-of-centre New Democratic Party is led by a Sikh – Jagmeet Singh – who was Trudeau’s rival for prime ministership this past election. Singh is the first Sikh to lead a major political party in Canada. His stand on Khalistan can only be described as dodgy.
In this landscape, any move by the Canadian government that diminishes the influence of Khalistanis and their supporters and emboldens the silent majority of Sikhs is a sign of progress. But real progress will be made only when political parties decide to change their secretive, back-door ways.
(The writer is a senior Washington-based journalist. She can be reached at @seemasirohi. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)