The murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar was an Indian-born Canadian Sikh leader who was actively involved in the Khalistan movement, a separatist Sikh movement that views India as a tormentor and repressor of minority rights including those of the Sikhs that seeks to secede from India and establish a separate independent homeland for the Sikhs, called, “Khalistan”.
Nijjar, the leader of the Canada based Khalistan movement has been continually active in mobilising and promoting support for the movement in Canada, where more than 600000 Canadian Sikhs live and many support the Khalistan movement.
Sikh organizations who viewed Nijjar as a human rights activist who fought for the right of self-determination of the “repressed” Sikhs in India, Government of India accused Nijjar of being “a criminal and a terrorist affiliated with the militant Khalistan Tiger Force” and has been asking the Canadian government to quash the Khalistan movement which in recent years has grown and gained in strength on the Canadian soil and demanded that Nijjar, the leader of the movement be arrested.
However, the Canadian government that treats the Khalistan movement, an expression of free choice, – a feature of democracy – by one of its own communities ignored Indian government’s request and never arrested Nijjar nor stopped the Khalistan movement.
On June 18, 2023, two masked men gunned down Hardeep Singh Nijjar in front of a Sikh Temple in Vancouver, Canada, and silenced Nijjar for good.
The Canadian Prime Minister Mr. Justin Trudeau has since claimed that his government has “credible proof” of a potential link between the Indian government and the murder of the Sikh leader, Nijjar in British Columbia, Canada.
However, the Indian government has denied any involvement in the Nijjar murder and on the contrary, has blamed Canada for harbouring “terrorist separatist movement” on its soil.
Canada has remained resolute in its claims and has revealed that it has obtained concrete evidence from its own intelligence as well as that of the Five Eyes – a joint US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand intelligence agency regarding Indian government’s direct hand in the murder.
These are indeed serious allegations and if these allegations of the Canadian government against the Indian government are proven to be true and the Canadians seem to be quite confident that they have enough proofs to support their position, Indian government would appear to have engaged in activities that “represent a targeted, extrajudicial killing on foreign soil – and mark a flagrant violation of international law.”
Most countries including those in the West have joined Canada and expressed their “concerns” about the alleged involvement of the Indian government in the murder, though these reactions especially from Canada’s close allies such as the US have been less forthcoming. The US, Canada’s closest ally “did not speak up with outrage on Canada’s behalf.” On the contrary, while speaking at the UN previous week, Joe Biden praised India “helping to establish a new economic pathway.”
Disappointing as these cautious reactions from Canada’s close allies especially from that of the US may sound, do not come as much of a surprise.
In the current geopolitical environment where India, a “democracy” (a familiar term that is frequently used by the West to sanctify partnerships with rogue governments) has been adopted by the West especially the US, as their new gun carrier against China, their (more specifically, America’s) current enemy and furthermore, the “rising economic India” that has since emerged as a big market for West’s arms and other consumables soft pedalling on Nijjar issue and not displaying outrage on Canada’s behalf is inevitable. Thus, as the Financial Times has put it “Canada doesn’t hold a lot of cards…India holds all the cards.”
Modi government’s repression and marginalisation of minorities especially are nothing new and yet, motivated by the geopolitical/geoeconomic usefulness of India, the West and more specifically, the US have opted to look the other way as Modi, also known as the Butcher of Gujarat for his alleged role in the Gujarat anti-Muslim riot, and his BJP have turned India into, according to the UN Rapporteur a place of “massive and systematic” violence against its minorities.
Condoned by the self-seeking West, Modi’s Hindutva supremacist racist policy has worsened since and persisted with impunity, has now gone offshore, threatening the safety and security of India’s minorities within and as is evident, overseas, targeting those who oppose these policies.
It is time that the West rethinks its policy of appeasement of the Modi government who has turned India, once a tolerant multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, into a rogue state. They thus must not kowtow to the Modi government and keep him in good humour to use them as their bulwark against their new enemy, China.
This policy is flawed and bound to boomerang and indeed, if the Nijjar murder on the Canadian soil is any guide, is already happening.
At the same time, in case China is West’s concern, they may do well by taking lessons from China to tackle China.
West needs to appreciate that China’s rise has happened not because of its military prowess, which is formidable, nor has it earned its position of eminence in the global stage through muscle flexing which West seems to have a special addiction to, but through application of soft power, a form of non-interfering economic support and cooperation, abroad.
Against this backdrop of China’s rise, West’s close ties with India which has grotesque human rights record especially under Modi, is not just morally not tenable but the policy is suicidal. It is compromising their (West’s) moral standing and dwindling the capacity to enlist wider support, rivalling China.
West also needs to recover from its imperialist hangover and wake up to the new realities of a globalised world and a globalised economy where healthy competition and cooperation and not confrontation is the answer.
Nijjar murder also raises another issue that may be also given due attention, and this relates to Canada’s domestic politics and its reaction to the murder.
While Canada’s especially its Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s strong reaction against the Nijjar’s murder and his unflinching allegations of India’s complicity in the act and his persistent demand for India’s cooperation in the probe is laudable, it may also not be too irrelevant to ask whether Canada would have reacted as strongly as it did, had the murder victim been, say a Kashmiri separatist and not a Sikh, the latter happened to have been a member of one Canada’s leading migrant communities that possesses significant political clout, in Canada?
We do not know and indeed, it is wrong to speculate that the Canadian government would have responded differently, just that the Nijjar murder is a reminder that making friends with violent governments and rogue leaders has the risks of hurting a country’s sovereignty and its democratic sanctity, at some stage.
M Adil Khan is an academic and a former senior policy manager of the United Nations