India ‘Critical’ In World Affairs, No Need To Sulk


The diplomatic snub to Justin Trudeau was not needed to convey the point about Khalistanis

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr

Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr is a Delhi-based journalist, who’s worked with Indian Express in multiple editions, and with DNA in Delhi. He has also written for Deccan Herald, Times of India, Gulf News (Dubai), Daily Star (Beirut) and Today (Singapore)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s week-long visit to India last month with his wife and cherubic children in tow should have been a successful charm offensive. The Trudeaus made for a picture-perfect happy family. The Trudeaus were quite charming whether at the Taj Mahal in Agra or in the Golden Temple at Amritsar or at Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad but it did not turn into the diplomatic victory. The sore point was the Canadian government’s miscalculation about the Khalistani connection, the presence of the supporters of the Khalistani extremists among the deeply-embedded Sikh expatriate community in Canada, and the Canadian political establishment’s ambiguous stance towards the Khalistan issue.

It should be noted that Canadian governments of all political hues have been less than forthright about Indian concerns over the Khalistan elements in Canada. Canadian diplomats and politicians will have to decide whether their opposition to Islamic terrorism will carry much weight if they want to soft-pedal other terrorist elements, big and small. But Canada is not the only Western country in the dock on this account. Great Britain is guilty too because many of the Khalistani activists and supporters have been allowed to flourish in that country as well, and India’s concerns were brushed aside. It is also the case that Britain and Canada had been home to many of the supporters and funders of the Sri Lankan terrorist groups like the now decimated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and its much lionized leader Velupillai Prabakaran among the Sri Lankan Tamil expatriates in the two countries. There is also the less publicized fact that the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had received much moral and financial support from Irish sympathizers in the United States.

It is quite unlikely that the mainstream Canadian political parties and their leaders can pick up a quarrel with the leaders of the oldest expatriate community of Sikhs in the country. It would also be futile to believe that quite a number of community’s leaders do sympathise with the Sikh extremists though they know full well that Sikh militancy has been quelled by the Indian state and talk of separatism does not make sense. A majority of the expatriate Sikhs in Canada have kept their India ties positive and vibrant because they sense the economic opportunities that an emerging India provides and they also nourish the cultural and religious bonds. They are unlikely to throw their full weight behind the handful of separatists and extremists. Canadian government will have to weigh its options – whether to humour the Sikhs at home and lose out on the business opportunities in India, or take a principled stance over terrorism and convince its Sikh community about the uncompromising stance that it would take on terrorism.

Did India do the right thing in snubbing Trudeau? This aspect needs a rethink. There cannot be a sense of triumph in ticking off a visiting head of government. The Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office, including the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval may have decided on the snub strategy and they may be satisfied that India’s message has been conveyed effectively. India needs to be firm, and even tough, but it should not be seen as a sulking and an aggrieved country which is what it appeared to be in the Trudeau episode. It could have made the point without the diplomatic contretemps and Canada would have had to come round. Everyone around the world is now aware of Indian’s economic clout. The presence of a bunch of Khalistanis in Canada cannot be a dampener on the bilateral relations. India’s petulance does it no credit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s eagerness to reach out to the overseas Indians – the People of Indian origin (PIO) – should be used to isolate and marginalise the disgruntled and distempered Khalistanis in Canada and elsewhere. The reason seems to be that India has focused more on the Indians in the United States – the PIO as well as the non-resident Indians (NRIs) – and neglected the PIOs in neighbouring Canada. The Canadian Sikhs must be made aware of the huge stakes they have in India and how it would be unwise of the community to tilt towards the Khalistanis. There are many subtle ways of dealing with recalcitrant elements inside and outside India without being undiplomatic.

It is true that Western countries have treated India with scan respect for too long. But they have changed their mind because they now know that India is key to the balance of power in the world – economically and politically. They now know that India cannot be ignored and it cannot be belittled. There will be irritants but they cannot antagonize India any more. India has attained a ‘critical’ state in world affairs and it does not have to sulk to make its point.


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