Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's first official visit to India has been completely overshadowed by the topic of Khalistan. Political analysts globally have made much of the fact that, for the most of his trip, Trudeau was snubbed by senior members of the Indian Government.
It was the absence of Indian Prime Minister Modi in Trudeau’s publicity pictures which has been most revealing. Modi, infamous for his awkward “bear hugging” of reluctant political leaders, is usually much more ‘touchy feely’ with his political counterparts, especially western ones.
The fall out derives from fears of the Indian Government that Canadian Members of Parliament, including ministers and Prime Minister Trudeau himself, are sympathetic to the struggle for Khalistan. First, Jagmeet Singh then Member of Provincial Parliament was denied an entry visa for India, punishment for his campaigning to have the massacres in Northern India in October/November 1984 be recognised as genocide.
The Indian Government then watched in dismay as 4 Sikhs were appointed as ministers of Justin Trudeaus Government in 2015, and worse still watching Jagmeet Singh become his party’s political leader (NDP Party) in 2017.
Chief Minister of Panjab Captain Amarinder Singh was quick to denounce the 5 (?) Sikh Canadian Ministers as being Khalistani sympathisers, and refused to meet Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan when he visited India in 2017. The allegations stem from the fact that Sajjan’s father was an executive member of the World Sikh Organisation, a Canadian based organisation which supported the creation of Khalistan.
It was only following Trudeau’s assertions that Canada supported a “united India”, was he finally met by a Chief Minister in India. Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister for Panjab met both Trudeau and Harjit Singh Sajjan on Wednesday (21/2/2018), after days of speculation with the Canadian Prime Minister’s office, unable to confirm whether they would be meeting.
It is clear that Canadian trade with India, which was estimated at $6 billion in 2016, played heavily on Trudeaus mind, as he successfully appeased the Indians. There were high stakes for the maverick prime minister, in addition to the existing trade, two stalled trade agreements -- one on fair trade and one on foreign investments -- have been under negotiation since 2010, and hopes had been high that Trudeau's visit would help to push those talks forward.
Indian Diplomatic Efforts Against Khalistan Pre and Post 1984
India has utilised all means to prevent the succession of the Panjab region for the formation of Khalistan, in the war for independence which has spanned nearly 40 years. This has included underhanded dealings with foreign governments, especially those with whom lucrative trade deals could be used in exchange for human rights suppression.
In exchange for lucrative contracts selling arms to India, Margaret Thatcher’s Government was happy to send over SAS advisors to help plan the assault on Darbar Sahib in June 1984, and curtail the rights of Sikhs in Britain who were proponents of Khalistan. The Cabinet meeting minutes of 22 November 1984 make it very clear what was behind the UK’s behaviour:
‘The British High Commission in New Delhi had reported continuing threats in Indian governmental circles of a trade boycott in the event of behaviour by the Sikh community in the United Kingdom which the Indians might regard as provocative. This posed a serious risk: export contracts worth £5 billion could be at stake. The march by Sikhs in Central London, which had been due to take place on 18 November, had been banned (by the Home Secretary).’
Originally representations between India and western governments were private, diplomatic and cooperative in nature, now they are more adversarial, aggressive and public. This is a clear sign that the target audience for this behaviour is Sikhs; India will close ranks on us, eroding our privileged positions in the west, and target those who support our struggle for Khalistan.
If we look at the current situation, the Indian Government through its intelligence agencies would know that Justin Trudeau is not a Khalistani sympathiser, nor are the Sikh members of his cabinet. That being the case, what was the purpose of making such a huge deal? Trudeau’s whole visit, his first official visit as prime minister to India, has been completely dominated by the issue of Khalistan.
He and his Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan have had to repeatedly make their position clear that they do not support Khalistan. If India was aware of this already, why the charade? It was only on the 23rd February, towards the end of his visit that Modi did meet Trudeau. After making their stance clear on Khalistan, Trudeau was rewarded with the customary Modi bear hug.
It is argued that this was a power play by India, to show Sikhs that if it wants to it can bully western governments, who are vying for its trade.
This would come as a blow to those Sikhs who see Trudeau as an ally of Sikhs, and Sajjan’s appointment, a boost for the Sikh nation. India forced the Canadian Government to make its position clear, removing all ambiguity that Sajjan and others stand with Canada, and thus with India, and its integrity, and not with the Sikh nation and its struggle for Khalistan.
Real Eyes - Realise - Real Lies
While there has been immense global coverage of Trudeau’s visit to India and his treatment by Modi and his Government because of Khalistan, a major theme has largely gone unnoticed by both western, Indian and Sikh commentary. Western media, particularly Canadian, have concentrated on the timing of Trudeau’s visit and its relevance to the Canadian federal elections in 2019;
"Indo-Canadians — a constituency that helped the Liberals win a majority government in 2015 and could play a decisive role in next year's federal election... For the Liberals, the domestic political aspects of the trip are primarily defensive in nature. There are 25 ridings in Canada where at least one-fifth of the population reports being South Asian (that includes Pakistanis and Sri Lankans along with Indians). The Liberals won 24 of those ridings in the 2015 federal election”
How Trudeau's India trip lays the groundwork for the 2019 election
Éric Grenier, CBC News (22 Feb 2018)
The Indians meanwhile have been whipping themselves into a frenzy, publishing pictures of Trudeau wearing a Ramaal, questioning whether Khalistan will be formed in Canada first! While initially instigated by Indian politicians like Captain Amarinder Singh, and fuelled by Modi’s dismissiveness, the Indian press has gone into full hysteria.
Sikh response has been largely to tow the media line, and to hint that Sikhs were being demonised, with Khalistan discussed with polarising language, such as extremism and even terrorism. What has gone largely unnoticed is the glaring contradiction in the Indian Government narrative.
While all diplomatic and propaganda measures have been adopted and all levels of state machinery mobilised against the Khalistan movement, the Indian Government simultaneously maintains the “Khalistani Sikhs”, are a fringe element of an otherwise docile and obedient Sikh diaspora:
“Militancy started in Punjab out of political reasons and Pakistan, too, was a fringe element, which was willing to take some benefit out of the dissenters. Today’s Sikhs do not harbour any Khalistani sentiment and this is a reality. This movement has no future anymore.”
Centre for Asian Strategic Studies-India (CASS-India)
This statement above highlights the hypocrisy of the Indian Government’s position, if the Khalistan movement is an aging and toothless tiger, why is there such high-level discourse between two superpowers? Why did India risk a high level diplomatic fall out with Canada, by refusing to meet senior Canadian Government officials, and labelling them as being “terrorist sympathisers”.
Sikhs are a minority within India, making up only 1.72% of the country's total population. The diaspora in Canada only amounts to 2.5% of that in Panjab, and yet the “Khalistani Sikh” is allegedly a tiny minority within them! A tiny minority, and yet the Khalistan issue trumped the whole visit, prioritised over all other national interests, including those of all other States in India.
Some Sikhs claim that this is all an attempt to slander the community as extremists. However, this is an overly simplistic view, while slander of the Sikh community has always been Indian narrative, other revelations show that the deeper reasonings are more complex. For example, the idea that this whole episode was to defame Sikhs is contradicted by the fact that Trudeau has been trying to arrange the state visit for two years, but India proved cold and uninterested. Insiders state that India was unhappy at Trudeau’s initial unwillingness to disown or distance from the Khalistani supporters, who he is alleged to have given patronage to.
Modi took the opportunity at the G20 in Hamburg to raise India’s objections to Trudaus attendance at Sikh rallies where Khalistan national flags and posters of Sikh Shaheeds (Khalistan Martyrs) were openly displayed. When Trudeau defended himself on the basis of freedom of speech, Modi made it clear that he viewed “pro-Khalistan groups as a serious security threat”, and that the relationship between India and Canada could not proceed, with a halt on any further trade, until Canada changed its position.
Between the G20 in Hamburg and last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where the two leaders met again, the Trudeau cabinet had begun to show signs of reversing its position. More importantly, Trudeau himself dropped all talk of freedom of speech at the meeting, which paved the way for Trudeaus first visit to India. These high-level discussions and negotiations between Canada and India show that this is not a propaganda campaign, but genuine concerns India has about the potential threat, from a mobilised and active Sikh diaspora.
As part of the agreement between Modi and Trudeau, the Canadian PM had to meet Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. This would also be seen as forcing the Canadians to legitimise the State Ministership of Panjab, against the interests of Sikhs, who consider Panjab to be under occupation.
Captain Amarinder Singhs tweets following his meeting, and media reports highlight the contradiction in State narrative, on the one hand the Khalistani’s represented “a fringe element, constituting a miniscule percentage”, but yet he raised the issue of Khalistan, because it was his “primary issue” of major importance. Singh, later tweeted that he was “really happy to receive categorical assurance” from Trudeau that he did not support Khalistan, and that those “words are a big relief to all of us here in India”.
If the Sikhs committed to Khalistan were truly an aging fringe section of the community it would make more sense for the Indian Government to ignore the Khalistanis’, and not give the struggle such prominence and attention. However, it is clear that while acknowledging that it would give it credibility, this was considered a necessary concession, out of desperation, to try and force Canada to stand against the Khalistanis'.
It is also interesting to note that Trudeau did not explicitly mention Khalistan himself in his actual statements, and was criticised by some Canadian journalists, for refusing to explicitly denounce Khalistan. What he did say was that he was against religious extremism and radicalism, which does not apply to the Khalistan movement. Furthermore, Captains statements about their meeting have been now disputed by Trudeau who claims much of what Captain has told the press simply is a fabrication.
Whilst some Sikhs are concerned about the defamatory statements made by the Indian State and its media channels, who see Khalistani Sikhs as a serious threat, we should be inspired and emboldened to the potential we have as Sikhs of the Guru.
What Has Changed
As discussed, the Indian State has changed its approach with western governments, taking up aggressive almost threatening behaviour to coerce them into taking positions against Khalistan. This is radically different from the traditional secret world of closed meetings and deals between diplomats and intelligence agents.
One reason for this change in approach, is the development in the last 10 years that the Sikh diaspora has undergone. For the past 40 years, India has not had to worry about western politicians becoming sympathetic to the Sikh struggle for Khalistan. Sikhs were small in number, novice in politics, and it would not have been in the interest of western politicians, let alone governments to provide sincere support.
Whilst it can be argued that with further migration and more time spent in the diaspora, we lose connection with our homeland in Panjab, and grow new roots in our host countries, there are some by-product benefits. One of those is better engagement and lobbying with politics in our host countries, and the strongest example of this is the Sikh diaspora in Canada:
“The Canadian Sikh community nearly doubled in size between 2001 and 2011, and its members are concentrated in important electoral districts. All three major parties—the Conservatives, the Liberals and the NDP—actively try to win over Sikh voters, giving them significant influence. Parties make a point of fielding Sikh candidates, and provinces have been attentive to Sikh rights.” … “Out of 338 seats, 17 are occupied by Sikhs—forming a share that outstrips the corresponding percentage of Sikhs in Canada’s overall population. Within three generations, Canadian Sikhs have gone from disenfranchisement to disproportionate representation.”
Not only is this problematic for the Indian State because Sikhs in Canada have greater influence over Canadian politicians, who may now have to be sympathetic to our causes, but what about when a Sikh becomes a prominent politician, and his causes are the same?
An example of this is Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP party in Canada. He along with other Sikh members of Provincial Parliament supported a motion which saw the Ontario Assembly become the first legislature in Canada to carry a motion that described the 1984 anti-Sikh violence as “genocide”.
This was a symbolic yet significant move, the gravity of which can be judged by the frantic, but ultimately, unsuccessful lobbying of the Indian Consul General in Toronto, and several prominent Indo-Canadian organisations, including the Canada-India Foundation, Panorama India and India Canada Chamber of Commerce, against the motion.
By defining as genocide, the narrative shifts from the Indian State narrative of random violence between civilian groups, to the state sponsored massacre, as part of the wider genocidal campaign against Sikhs it was. The latter accurate description of the events in October/November 1984 across Northern States in India, naturally inspires Sikhs towards Khalistan.
It is clear that India recognised the significance of the motion, in justifying Jagmeet Singh’s travel ban to India; it stated that it viewed Jagmeet’s activism as “seeking to undermine” Indian political institutions and “foment contempt to the country”, and that individuals such as Jagmeet were only “misusing the pretext of human rights to pursue their insidious agenda of disrupting the social fabric of India.”
Technology, including the internet and social media has also been a huge factor, as it has transformed how we receive and disseminate information. Traditionally most of the information and leadership would have been received from the stages at Gurughars, and therefore the Indian State has always had a vested interest and infiltrated where possible, in order to control the narrative. While the Gurughar will always be central to the community, if Panthic voices are supressed or deviant narratives pushed instead today, there are a whole range of alternate avenues, including social media, that are being used to maintain Guru-centric narrative.
With this new method of communication, Sikh activism and leadership takes on more organic and unfettered forms, unrestricted by geographical boundaries, Sikh diaspora across continents can be mobilised with one tweet. An example of this is the #FreeJaggi campaign. The Indian State has been unable to control the rhetoric as it may have been able before, and largely the traditional leadership have been irrelevant to the campaign, which is free to take which ever route it wants.
This sporadic rather than linear movement, is hard to track and counter, and produces spectacular unpredictable results. For example, as the anti-India feeling spread across the diaspora with the #FreeJaggi campaign, the Ontario Gurdwara Committee (OGC), which represents 15 Gurdwaras in the province, imposed a ban on Indian officials, including elected representatives, from entering their Gurdwaras. Within days this the boycott movement had spread across other Canadian provinces of Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, and beyond its borders to America, the UK (225 Gurughars), and most recently, Melbourne in Australia.
The implications of these overlapping Panthic Morchay are not lost on the Indian State, Hindustan Times reported on the boycott phenomenon with their fears that
“As the movement escalates, there’s fear that it might lead to call for an independent Punjab among Sikhs abroad.”
Fears of a New Sikh Uprising Emerge
12 February 2018
It is clear that it is the Sikh diaspora that is causing alarm to the Indian State. The recent assassinations of Hindu fascist leaders, attributed to the Khalisan Liberation Force has been linked with the Sikh diaspora. Use of western weapons, the assassins use of western training methods, counter surveillance technology for logistics and communication, clearly show that Sikhs outside of Panjab, had been coordinating the audacious executions across the State.
The fact that diasporic sikh are dominating military actions in Panjab rubbishes usual claims of Pakistan involvement. India is less concerned with Pakistan involvement, nor can it maintain the pretence of the latters involvement, as was made clear when Prime Minister Modi travelled to Pakistan in 2015 to celebrate the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s birthday.
Furthermore, the willingness of Sikhs in Panjab to train, pick up arms and contribute to the armed movement, is equally troubling for the Indian State, especially given recent revelations that one of the alleged assassins is claimed to have returned home from Italy to join the Khalistan Liberation Force.
In a time when emigration is rife in Panjab, the sight of young Sikhs giving up materialistic exploits in the west, and committing to the liberation of Panjab, will draw disturbing parallels in the minds of Indian intelligence agencies, to similar actions of Khalistan leaders like Jathedar Talwinder Singh Babbar.
The Indian State has been rocked by the resurgence of Panthic activism across the Sikh diaspora. We must recognise the potential within the Qaum, that India so clearly fears. A mobilised Sikh diaspora, is limited by its objectives only. As India attempts to use bully boy tactics to isolate Sikhs from western governments, this should strengthen our resolve and remind us that liberation can not be achieved piggybacking off the sovereignty of another. Throughout Sikh history through raj and rebellion, thrones and gallows, confederacies and genocides, our only source of constant support has been the Guru.
Sri Akaal Ji Sahai