From Khalistan To Akhand Bharat, International Controversies Continue
Contentious domestic issues being used to gain local support, without considering international relations
Governments in various parts of the world are now using contentious domestic issues to gain local support without considering the consequences for relations with other countries.
The latest incident is a parade that took place on June 4 in Brampton, a Canadian city, in which there was a float depicting uniformed Sikhs shooting former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The bloodstained sari of Gandhi went viral in the social media prompting Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar to declare that Ottawa’s tolerance of such public depictions would not be good for Indo-Canadian relations and for Canada itself.
He advised Canadians to revisit their own history to know the consequences of what they had been doing. Earlier, Jaishankar was “perplexed” by the Canadian national security adviser Jody Thomas’ comment that India is “among the top sources of foreign interference in Canada”.
Jaishankar went on to say that this was “the pot calling the kettle black” and added: “If anybody has a complaint, we have a complaint about Canada – the space they are giving to Khalistanis and violent extremists.”
Though it is not certain if these incidents will hamper India’s on-going bid to take Indo-Canadian annual bilateral trade to US$ 6.5 billion, they have introduced an element of bitterness in the relationship.
Earlier, on June 1, the display of a mural depicting the ancient Ashokan Empire in the new Indian Parliament in New Delhi, caused a stir in India’s neighbourhood. With the cheerleaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) interpreting the mural as that of ‘Akhand Bharat’ (or ‘Greater/ Undivided India’ including its neighbouring countries), it drew protests from Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. These nations saw it as an expression of India's goal of creating a “Greater India” by including all these countries.
The Bangladesh Deputy Foreign Minister Shahriar Alam sought “further official clarifications” from the Government of India. “Anger is being expressed from various quarters over the map,” Alam said.
In Nepal, former Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli said: “If a country like India that sees itself as an ancient and strong country and as a model of democracy puts Nepali territories in its map and hangs the map in parliament, it cannot be called fair.”
Oli asked Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who visited India last week, to “ask the Indian government to remove the mural” and “correct that mistake.”
Pakistan also expressed “grave concern” over the idea of Akhand Bharat being increasingly peddled by India’s ruling dispensation. At a weekly news briefing in Islamabad, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said that the map was “a manifestation of an expansionist mindset that seeks to subjugate the ideology and culture not only of India’s neighbours but also its religious minorities”.
A few years ago, in an attempt to woo the Hindus of West Bengal in one of the elections, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah, termed Bangladeshi immigrants as “termites”, a description that was deeply resented in Bangladesh and put the pro-Indian government of Sheikh Hasina in a very awkward position.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a domestic compulsion to support the ‘Khalistanis’. He heads a minority government which is backed by the New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Jagmeet Singh, a hardcore Khalistani separatist.
Jagmeet Singh's NDP has 24 seats in Parliament, whose support is critical for the survival of the Trudeau government. The NDP enjoys considerable support in Trudeau’s Liberal Party. So there is another compulsion to support the Khalistanis.
In the Canadian general election in 2019, Trudeau's Liberal Party bagged 157 seats, the opposition Conservatives 121, Bloc Quebecois 32, NDP 24, Green Party 3 and one went to an Independent. Trudeau had to depend on the support of at least 13 legislators from his left-leaning rival parties to reach the magic 170 number to stay afloat.
After the elections Jagmeet Singh and Trudeau signed the “confidence-and-supply agreement” that will remain in force till 2025.
With his relations with Trudeau secure, Jagmeet Singh went the whole hog against India and upheld the Khalistani cause brazenly. When the Bhindranwale clone Amritpal Singh created a stir in Punjab and the Center cut off the internet in some districts, Jagmeet Singh activated the Khalistani network in Canada for protests.
His brother and fellow politician Gurratan Singh tweeted that there were "mass arrests of Sikh activists, shutdown of internet and text, crackdown on public gatherings, mass censorship and human rights violations. “Let the Indian government know that we condemn this repression," he added.
According to the website ‘Khalistan Extremism Monitor’, some Sikhs have been involved in violent crime in Canada. Satinderjit Singh Brar alias Goldy Brar, a notorious gangster from Punjab and a Canadian fugitive accused of involvement in the murder of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moosewala, was added to Canada's top 25 most wanted criminals list.
A statement issued by the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi said the country’s ‘Be On Look Out’ (BOLO) Program, a not-for-profit organisation that amplifies police fugitive cases to increase public awareness, had updated its list of 25 most wanted criminals. Brar, who arrived in Canada on a student visa in 2017, is not charged with any criminal offences in Canada, but is under investigation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Brar is believed to be a risk to public safety and has direct links to a Pakistan-based Khalistani terrorist outfit Babbar Khalsa International (BKI.
Canadian Prime Minister (PM) Justin Trudeau’s s presence at the Khalsa Day event in 2017 had irked the Indian government due to the display of Khalistani flags, posters of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and the celebration of a motion terming the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as "genocide."
The President of Friends of Canada and India Foundation in Surrey, Canada, Maninder Gill, had complained that he was continuously getting death threats from Khalistani radicals after he organised a reception in honour of India’s High Commissioner to Ottawa. He wrote a letter to the interim Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), stating that he was being warned that he could face a similar fate as Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was shot dead in Surrey.
Maninder Gill, who is also a media person, was the principal organiser of the event at a convention centre in Surrey on March 19. But due to the presence of nearly 200 protesters, some of whom were wielding swords, in front of the venue, the High Commissioner was forced to cancel attendance.
A Hindu temple named BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Windsor town in Ontario, Canada, was vandalised and desecrated with spray-painted anti-India and anti-Modi graffiti on April 4 night.
The website Khalistan Extremism Monitor says that India had raised the issue of multiple instances of defacement targeting statues of Mahatma Gandhi.
According to the above-mentioned website, a meeting that took place near Toronto during the summer of 2022 indicated a growing connection between Pakistan fugitive Amritpal Singh’s outfit Waris Punjab De (WPD), and prominent Khalistani figures based in Canada.
In May 2022, Pakistan's Consul General in Toronto held a meeting with a group that included Daljit Singh Kalsi, who is believed to be associated with Amritpal Singh and is currently being held under the National Security Act after being apprehended in Gurugram.
However, New Delhi’s complaints appear to be falling on deaf ears in Ottawa. And the reason is the Trudeau government’s utter dependence on Sikh outfits for its very survival.
In a way, India’s politicians are also responsible for the state of affairs as they also, motivated by the need to mobilise partisan support, dub all Sikh-led agitations or movements as “Khalistani-inspired” or all Muslim movements as Pakistan-inspired. Such depictions naturally lead to a lack of faith in the fairness of the Indian political system among these communities, especially in the diaspora.