Bridging Divides: Navigating the Canada-India Relationship

Harshaa Kawatra

Introduction

Canada and India share a long-standing relationship that has been characterised by diplomatic, economic, and cultural ties. However, in recent years, this relationship has faced challenges due to the Khalistan movement, a Sikh separatist movement seeking an independent homeland called Khalistan. This policy analysis aims to analyse  the evolving India-Canada situation in the context of the Khalistan movement, examining the historical background, the current state of affairs, and potential policy recommendations to address the issue.

Historical Background of Canada-India relationship

The roots of the Khalistan movement can be traced back to the 1940s and 1950s when demands for greater Sikh autonomy within India began to emerge. However, the movement gained significant momentum in the 1970s and 1980s due to several factors, including perceived religious discrimination against Sikhs and political unrest in Punjab, India’s Sikh-majority state. The movement culminated in violence, most notably the 1984 Operation Blue Star, in which the Indian government ordered an assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, one of the holiest sites in Sikhism. Operation bluestar was based on suspicion that Golden Temple was a hideout of militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, the mastermind of the Khalistan Movement 

This operation resulted in the death of hundreds of Sikhs and severely strained India’s relations with the Sikh diaspora, particularly in Canada. A significant number of Sikhs had migrated to Canada in the preceding decades, and the Canadian government’s response to Operation Blue Star and its aftermath played a crucial role in shaping the relationship between the two countries.

Current State of Affairs

This relationship remains complex and sensitive due to the Khalistan movement’s persistence. Several key factors contribute to this ongoing issue:

  1. Sikh Diaspora: Canada is home to one of the largest Sikh diasporas in the world, with a vibrant and politically active Sikh community. Some members of this community support the Khalistan movement, leading to tension between Canada and India. Indian officials have accused certain Canadian politicians of having affiliations with Khalistani elements, while Canada defends its citizens’ right to free expression and political involvement.
  2. Trade and Economic Ties: Despite the diplomatic challenges posed by the Khalistan movement, trade between Canada and India has grown steadily. Both countries recognize the economic benefits of a strong trade relationship, leading to a delicate balancing act of pursuing economic cooperation while managing political differences. In 2022-23, India’s exports to Canada stood at $4,109.74 million, which exceeded its imports ($4,051.29 million) from the country — leaving a trade surplus of $58.45 million. Additionally, Canada accounts for 0.56% of the total FDI in India.
  1. Diplomatic Relations: Diplomatic relations between Canada and India have seen fluctuations over the years, with moments of tension followed by attempts at rapprochement. Both countries have an interest in maintaining a positive relationship, given the potential benefits of cooperation on various global issues.

Addressing theIndia-Canada  situation in the context of the Khalistan movement requires a nuanced approach that considers multiple stakeholders and interests. Here are some policy recommendations:

  1. Engage in Diplomatic Dialogue: Both Canada and India should prioritise diplomatic dialogue to address their differences. Establishing regular channels of communication can help prevent misunderstandings and allow for the discussion of sensitive topics such as the Khalistan movement.
  2. Support Cultural Exchange: Encourage cultural exchange programs and educational initiatives that foster greater understanding between Canadians and Indians. These programs can help dispel misconceptions and stereotypes, promoting tolerance and mutual respect.
  3. Counter Radicalization: Canada should continue its efforts to counter radicalization and extremism within its borders, regardless of the specific ideology involved. This includes monitoring and addressing extremist content online, supporting community-led initiatives, and strengthening intelligence-sharing mechanisms with international partners.
  4. Maintain Trade Relations: Both countries should prioritise maintaining strong trade and economic relations. The economic benefits of this relationship can act as a stabilising force, helping to manage political differences.
  5. Strengthen Counterterrorism Cooperation: Enhance cooperation in counterterrorism efforts, especially when dealing with individuals or groups linked to extremist activities. This cooperation should be based on intelligence sharing and law enforcement collaboration.
  6. Respect Freedom of Expression: Canada must strike a balance between protecting freedom of expression and addressing concerns about support for separatist movements. It should investigate any potential illegal activities while ensuring the rights of all citizens are protected.
  7. Encourage Diaspora Engagement: Encourage the Sikh diaspora in Canada to play a positive role in promoting peace and dialogue between Canada and India. This can involve supporting community leaders and organisations committed to non-violence and dialogue.

Conclusion

The Canada-India situation in the context of the Khalistan movement is a complex issue that requires careful consideration of historical, political, and economic factors. Both countries have a vested interest in maintaining a positive relationship, and this can be achieved through diplomatic dialogue, cultural exchange, and cooperation on counterterrorism efforts. While addressing the Khalistan movement’s challenges, it is crucial to respect the rights and freedoms of all individuals and communities involved, ensuring that policies are both effective and just. Ultimately, finding common ground and building bridges of understanding will be essential in fostering a harmonious relationship between Canada and India in the years to come.

References

  1. What to Know About the Khalistan Movement Centering India-Canada Tensions https://time.com/6315922/khalistan-india-canada-tensions/
  2. Khalistan:Sikh political ideology https://www.britannica.com/topic/Khalistan
  3. A history of the Khalistan movement in Canada, going back more than 40 years https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-history/history-khalistan-in-canada-explained-8946517/

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organisation.

Acknowledgement: The author would like to thank Chaitanya for his kind comments and suggestions to improve the article.

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