NEW DELHI: India rejected on Tuesday suspicions leveled by Canada over New Delhi’s role in the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, as it moves to expel a senior Canadian diplomat from the country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told his Parliament on Monday that Canadian intelligence agencies were “actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar.”
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in the Canadian city of Surrey, where a large Sikh population resides. He was a strong supporter of a movement banned in India called Khalistan, which calls for an independent Sikh homeland.
“We have seen and reject the statement of the Canadian prime minister in their Parliament, as also the statement by their foreign minister,” the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Allegations of “India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are absurd and motivated,” it added.
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday also announced its decision “to expel a senior Canadian diplomat based in India.”
It said: “The concerned diplomat has been asked to leave India within the next five days. The decision reflects (the) government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters and their involvement in anti-India activities.”
Trudeau told Canadian lawmakers that he had brought up the case with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Group of 20 summit last week in New Delhi and asked for cooperation in the investigation.
Canada has also moved to expel a top Indian diplomat, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said.
“If proven true, this would be a great violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other,” Joly said. “As of today, and as a consequence, we have expelled a top Indian diplomat from Canada.”
The diplomatic spat deals a fresh blow to bilateral ties that have been fraying for years, with New Delhi concerned over Sikh separatist activity in Canada.
The latest development may now impact trade ties, as talks on a proposed trade deal were frozen last week.
“It’s a serious escalation of differences between the two countries. India has major differences with Canada over how it is handling the issue of Sikh separatism,” Sanjay Kapoor, analyst and chief editor of the political magazine Hard News, told Arab News.
"During the G20, both leaders complained to each other, with PM Justin Trudeau talking of interference by India in their affairs. At that time, it didn’t seem as (if) the differences between the two countries (would) so rapidly worsen.”
In India, Khalistan was known as a violent separatist movement in the 1980s and early 1990s, prompting a controversial military operation by the Indian government that killed thousands of people.
Ajai Sahni, executive director at the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, said Canada’s accusation is missing proof.
“This is an extremely perverse statement … On the basis of the available evidence, it falls flat,” Sahni told Arab News.
According to Sahni, “electoral games” were behind Trudeau’s support for the Sikh people in Canada, under the belief that the community can deliver critical votes in upcoming elections.
Canada has the largest population of Sikhs outside the Indian state of Punjab at around 770,000 or 2 percent of its total population.
“This is entirely defined by domestic politics, not by any objective evidence-based involvement of the Indian state,” Sahni said.