Wednesday, December 6, 2023

The View from India

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By Dilip Bobb

The Hosannas and hype surrounding the success of the G-20 meeting in Delhi has taken a beating after one its participants, Justin Trudeau of Canada, made the shocking claim that India may have been involved in the killing of a Sikh Canadian citizen in a Vancouver suburb in June. Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” of links to New Delhi, which India angrily rejected as absurd. It has been a free fall since: Each expelled a diplomat, India suspended visas for Canadians, and Ottawa said it may reduce consulate staff over safety concerns. Delhi has confiscated houses and land belonging to those it terms as Canada-based Khalistani “terrorists”.

Ties between the two once-close countries have sunk to their lowest point in years. Trudeau skipped an official dinner hosted by the Indian president, and local media reported he was snubbed by Modi when he got a quick “pull aside” instead of a bilateral meeting. To make things worse, a flight snag saw him stranded in New Delhi for 36 hours. Finally, back in Canada, Trudeau said he had raised the allegations with Modi at the G20. While there’s been no public evidence, a Canadian official told The Associated Press that the allegation of India’s involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist, is based on surveillance of Indian diplomats in Canada — including intelligence provided by a major ally. On Friday, the US ambassador to Canada confirmed this, saying information shared by the intelligence-sharing ‘Five Eyes’ alliance helped link India to the killing.

The diplomatic controversy comes at a time when the General Assembly is meeting and India has a diplomatic mess on its plate. The electronic surveillance intercepts provided to Canada by the US under the charter of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance which indicated the involvement of India in the killing of Nijjar is being seen as credible, though India continues to issue denials that are less than convincing. The first reaction from Canada’s western allies, including its big neighbour, the United States suggests that the diplomatic fallout is a matter of concern for Indian officials, mainly its growing ties with the West. After an initial muted response, the White House has intensified its concerns. “There’s not some special exemption you get for actions like this, regardless of the country,” security adviser Jake Sullivan said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US was deeply concerned about the allegations and that “it would be important that India work with the Canadians on this investigation.”

The diplomatic row could also affect India’s long-standing bid to be part of the UN Security Council. In April, foreign minister S. Jaishankar said India, the world’s most populous country with the fastest growing economy among major nations, couldn’t be ignored for too long. The UN Security Council, he said, “will be compelled to provide permanent membership.”

Kept out of the UN’s most important body, India has landed at the centre of a tangled web of global politics. On one hand, New Delhi is part of the Quad and the G20, seen as mostly Western groups. On the other, it wants to expand its influence in the BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where Russia and China dominate. At the United Nations, where he held a news conference and meetings, Trudeau told reporters that he doesn’t want to cause problems but said his decision was not made lightly. Canada, he said, had to stand up for the rule of law and protect its citizens. For New Delhi, the UN meeting may present a possible opportunity. Indian and Canadian diplomats could meet on the sidelines to try to lower temperatures with a potential assist from Washington.

The damage, however, has already caused a major rift in Indo-Canadian relations and as long as Trudeau’s party, now at its lowest point in the polls, continues to believe it can survive by support from pro-Khalistan elements, the rift can only widen further and turn into a diplomatic headache for the West, which India has been courting ever since Donald Trump and Modi walked arm in arm at the Namaste Trump event in February 2020. Modi, and India, should be worried. As the famous quote goes; “In diplomacy, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.” 

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