Trudeau must come clean in order to repair the bridges he’s burned
Justin Trudeau has ignited a perfect firestorm for himself. His revelations, if they are revelations, are those he has made public with no evidence — that the Indian government was involved in the assassination of a Khalistani element in Canada.
His statement has caused a diplomatic row unprecedented in recent times. The Khalistani the Canadian prime minister has been speaking up for was once an Indian who subsequently took up Canadian citizenship. Mr Trudeau’s ire was aroused by the fact that it was a Canadian citizen who had been assassinated, allegedly, on Canadian soil on orders from Delhi.
All assassinations cause revulsion in good men and women because murder is a heinous way of stifling a voice and ending a life. That Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the man Trudeau spoke in defense of in the Canadian parliament, was killed is regrettable. It is only proper that the Ottawa authorities go into a full scale inquiry into the crime. But what is certainly not proper is for the Canadian leader to point the finger at the Indian government for the crime without concrete proof. Moreover, his informing the other member-states of the Five Eyes alliance of which Canada is a part — the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand — seems to have been an overreach on his part.
The Canadian authorities did not stop there. They went for the precipitate action of expelling an Indian diplomat, which again is rather without precedent in relations between two democratic countries. An outraged Indian government then went for a similar act, by asking a Canadian diplomat to leave India within five days, the exact time Ottawa had given the expelled Indian diplomat to leave Canada.
It is all an ugly episode in these times, ugly because Trudeau’s action did not take into view the fallout which would result from it. Worse, Canada’s prime minister is now perceived as having given short shrift to Indian concerns about the activities of the Khalistani extremists in a country which regularly professes its adherence to the rule of law.
Two percent of Canada’s population today comprises people of Indian origin, of which those who have been loudly proclaiming their loyalty to the cause of a separate Khalistan in India are a minuscule lot. And yet this little group has been going around in Canada whipping up hatred against the Indian state and loudly calling for the establishment of a sovereign Khalistan to be prised out of the Indian Union.
It is a pity that the Canadian authorities and especially Prime Minister Trudeau chose to ignore the secessionist activities against a democratic state, which India is, on its soil. It ought to have been for Ottawa to take action against such elements engaged in inciting disaffection toward a country which is a rising economic power in the global scheme of things, indeed as a leading player in the world today. Trudeau has of course made it known that he has no intention of provoking India, but he certainly has. He ought to have been more circumspect in making his moves.
One could question the Canadian government on two points. First, under what law, assuming the rule of law is sacrosanct in Canada, did the Ottawa authorities permit individuals like Nijjar, who is a terrorist in Indian consideration, to take up residence in Canada rather than being denied entry into the country? Second, when the Khalistan issue ended in 1984, with the storming of the Golden Temple in Amritsar by the Indian army on the orders of the government of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, what was the motive now behind the Canadian authorities to look away from men like Nijjar and others whipping up a dead issue?
Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale died in the Golden Temple decades ago. His Khalistan cause died with him. That Sikhs are part of India, that they form an important template in the Indian polity, that they do not identify with men on the lunatic fringes of extremist politics, should have been a subject on which the Ottawa authorities ought to have expended good time.
Trudeau has let it be known that his government has credible allegations about Indian government involvement in Nijjar’s death. Allegations and evidence are miles apart, which is why the leader of the opposition in the Canadian parliament, Pierre Poilievre, has asked the government to come clean on the allegations.
Justin Trudeau now owes it to himself, to his fellow citizens, to India, and to the world at large to fully explain how his government came by the decision to put the blame on the Indian government over Nijjar’s death and how it drew the conclusion that an Indian diplomat in Ottawa was involved in the crime. He needs to do more, which is to explain to the world how separatist movements led by men with a record of violence or intent to commit violence against a sovereign and democratic country, which is also part of the Commonwealth and the G-20 where Canada is a consequential member, are freely undertaken in Canada where the rule of law is putatively in operation.
From the Bangladesh perspective, it is perhaps worth noting that for all its insistence on and belief in the rule of law, the Canadian authorities have sheltered a convicted assassin of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in their country for decades and have refused to extradite him on the ground that capital punishment is in force in Dhaka. But one might as well ask the Canadian authorities that when they were aware of the antecedents of this man, that he had actively been involved in the murder of Bangladesh’s founding father and his family, how was he allowed into Canada and how is it that no legal action has ever been taken against him?
Justin Trudeau’s move against the Indian government was again made, one suspects, because his is a minority government and which therefore has its eyes on voters who might rally around him on the issue. Besides, the government has been propped up by a Sikh party whose chief is allegedly an unabashed supporter of the Khalistan demand. So where does that leave the situation? In the interest of power politics, does Trudeau or anyone else believe that it is alright for Canada to ignore activities against another country by people who were once its citizens and who are now engaged in open activities against their former country?
Democracy, the rules of it, should apply to all. For Canada, indeed for the Five Eyes, it is an absolute necessity that they not coddle or cosy up to elements who, taking advantage of freedom of speech and action in their territories, call forth the audacity to campaign against the territorial integrity of other nations. Moreover, it ought to be borne in mind, in Ottawa and elsewhere, that for all their emphasis on the rule of law and thereby providing safe sanctuary for terrorists, separatists, and assassins in their countries and so giving these elements the impetus to launch subversive acts against foreign governments, it is freedom which is simply unacceptable and flies in the face of political norms.
It should be for Prime Minister Trudeau to get to the bottom of the terrible consequences of the liberty his country has given fugitives from abroad to indulge in anti-politics against overseas nations and rethink the Canadian position on the issue. And on the question of the assassination of Nijjar, Ottawa must undertake a credible, thorough investigation to arrive at the truth, with the necessary cooperation from the government of India.
Meanwhile, the damage that has been done to Indian-Canadian diplomatic and other ties by Trudeau’s precipitate action is immeasurable. It will be for Canada’s government, the one in office now or the one to come in future, to go for measures that will repair the bridge that has been broken.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Consultant Editor, Dhaka Tribune.
Source: Dhaka Tribune.