Assassination on Canadian soil is the sort of thing India’s close ally Putin does

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018. India now stands accused of a Russian-style overseas extrajudicial killing in Canada.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018. India now stands accused of a Russian-style overseas extrajudicial killing in Canada. - Manish Swarup/AP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau surprised Parliament yesterday when he announced that senior diplomats in Canada and India had been expelled, and gave the reason. 

“Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been 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,” Trudeau said, adding that the Liberal government would “hold perpetrators of this murder to account.”

Nijjar, a Sikh leader and temple president in Surrey, British Columbia, was gunned down in the car park of his temple on June 18. According to the National Post, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said “two heavy-set suspects” shot him, and fled in a getaway vehicle “driven by a third suspect.”

Nijjar arrived in Canada in Feb 1997. He initially had trouble with the immigration authorities but gained citizenship in the end. He reportedly earned his living as a plumber, while campaigning for the cause of “Khalistan” – the aspiration for an independent Sikh homeland not under Indian or Pakistani rule. Sikhs make up less than 2 per cent of the population of India, but in Punjab province they are a majority of 60 per cent.

The Indian government had declared Nijjar to be a terrorist and involved with various militant groups. India also accused him of involvement in a bombing in Punjab in 2007. (There was an armed Sikh insurgency in India from the late 1980s to the late 1990s, but the violence has long since ended.)

“The Khalistan movement has been virtually non-existent, enjoys no political support and goes up and down depending on the attention the Indian government pays to it,” Indian journalist and longtime human rights activist Hartosh Singh Bal told Al Jazeera today. In his view, “the Modi government has consistently hyped up the Khalistani threat to India ... I think, again, because it suits them domestically to talk about security threats to the Indian nation.”

Trudeau had been repeatedly criticized last week for awkward-seeming meetings and photo-ops with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi. He also focused on a rule-of-law agenda that partially appeared to criticise India and Modi.

“Diaspora Canadians make up a huge proportion of our country,” Trudeau said, “and they should be able to express themselves and make their choices without interference from any of the many countries that we know are involved in interference challenges.”

It appears there was more to Trudeau’s odd behaviour at the G20 than the world perceived.

Canadian intelligence is absolutely right to investigate this matter, and Trudeau is right to press it. If India was behind Nijjar’s murder on Canadian soil, that’s unacceptable. Modern democratic countries aren’t in the business of sending assassins overseas to deal with problems and eliminate suspects. That’s what a tyrant like Vladimir Putin would do – and it’s worth bringing Vladimir Putin up in this context, as India is in large part bankrolling him at the moment by buying Russia’s oil and weapons.

If Trudeau and Canada’s intelligence services are correct in their suspicions, the West may have to keep a much closer eye on Modi’s India.

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