In the intricate tapestry of India’s economic landscape, the latest government survey serves as a brushstroke, delineating a transformation in consumer spending that beckons both curiosity and concern.
Based on India’s insistence, Canada withdrew 41 of its diplomats. Melanie Joly, the Canadian foreign minister stated, “Revoking the diplomatic immunity of 41 diplomats is not only unprecedented, but also contrary to international law. Canada will continue to defend international law, which applies to all nations and will continue to engage with India.”
Canada also announced suspending its visa and consular services at its consulates, hoping to put pressure on New Delhi. This is the period when students are issued visas for Canadian universities. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian PM, whose accusation of India being involved in the killing of terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, started the downslide, mentioned, “It’s something that has me very concerned for the well-being and happiness of millions of Canadians who trace their origins to the Indian subcontinent.”
India refused to back down. The Indian foreign ministry statement read, “Our actions in implementing this parity are fully consistent with Article 11.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.” Hitting back, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar stated, “ensuring safety and security of diplomats is the most fundamental aspect of the Vienna Convention. And right now, that is what has in many ways been challenged in Canada: that our people are not safe, our diplomats are not safe.”
India, which had stopped issuance of visas from its high commission and consulates in Canada, has recommenced them, signalling a drawdown. All members of the Five Eyes Intelligence network objected to the Indian actions. The US state department spokesperson, Matthew Miller, mentioned in a press interaction, “We have urged the Indian government not to insist upon a reduction in Canada’s diplomatic presence and to cooperate in the ongoing Canadian investigation.”
The British foreign office stated, “We do not agree with the decisions taken by the Indian government that have resulted in a number of Canadian diplomats departing India.” India challenged the Canadian accusations, though Ottawa is supported by its allies. India insists that Canada has not shared any inputs, while Canada’s allies mention that intelligence exists.
In all likelihood the inputs available with Ottawa are based on illegal monitoring of Indian communications which can never be placed in public domain as it could impact credibility of the ‘five eyes’ group of nations. India simultaneously accused Canada of interference in its domestic affairs. Jaishankar stated on a public platform, “we had concerns about continuous interference in our affairs by Canadian personnel. We haven’t made much public. Over a period of time inputs will flow and people will understand why we had the kind of discomfort with many of them which we did.”
Such accusations on public platforms have global ramifications. The threat of releasing details of gross interference in the public domain is a warning to all Canadian allies that India will hit back in case it is pushed, even dragging them in. Subsequently it has been leaked that Canadian diplomats were granting visas to known Khalistan supporters including those with criminal antecedents.
A government source said, “Canadian diplomats have done this deliberately and the idea was very clear — to give visas to take certain individuals out of India.” More would follow. Jaishankar had stated, “India has problems with certain segments of Canadian politics.” This implies that as long as Trudeau is in power and depends on the support of Jagmeet Singh’s NDF, Indo-Canada relations will not be normal. These comments will support the Canadian opposition, especially as Indian-Canadians form a sizeable vote bank. India is also contemplating taking Canada to the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) for its inaction against terror financing on its soil. India possesses inputs which it has already shared with Ottawa.
This would be the first time a Western nation would be accused of permitting the raising of funds for terrorist activities on its soil. While its allies may protect Canada in the FATF, the Indian action could harm its global image. Trudeau’s disastrous visit to India in 2018 should have been taken as a hint of deteriorating ties. The firmest message was the G20 summit, where frostiness in relations was evident.
It was to avoid criticism of his failed visit that Trudeau prematurely accused India. Till date no evidence has been provided nor released in public domain on Indian involvement in the killing of Nijjar. Melanie Joly when asked on whether Canada has provided evidence to India, fumbled for words. Neither the US nor UK have mentioned availability of evidence. All they state is India must cooperate in the investigation. To sidestep its lack of credible evidence, Ottawa changed its strategy. It has begun harping on India not adhering to the Vienna convention. With an experienced diplomat as India’s foreign minister, Delhi will ensure that it can never be caught on the wrong foot.
To counter Ottawa’s statement that it has stopped visa services at its consulates, Jaishankar stated that reduction of staff should have been done in Delhi, not consulates. Western nations have always assumed that they dictate rules and others would blindly follow. This is based on their history of colonialism and economic might. The Indian economy and global standing are far higher than those of most Western nations, including Canada and the UK. India therefore decided to challenge them to share evidence openly. Nothing was forthcoming.
India’s public threat to further expose Ottawa’s ill-intent pushed them onto the defensive. The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist in Istanbul in October 2018, by a hit squad, especially dispatched from Riyadh, was proved as Turkey possessed irrefutable evidence. On the other hand, proof of Indian involvement is either non-existent or based on illegal intelligence gathering, which cannot be made public. Jamal was an established critic of the Saudi regime and had settled in the US, while Nijjar was a terrorist whom Ottawa refused to extradite.
The Biden administration threatened action against Saudi Arabia for ordering the assassination. In response to US threats, Saudi reduced engagement with the US and refused to consider its requests. With passage of time all has been forgotten. It is Washington which is currently wooing Riyadh. In Nijjar’s case, India is challenging the West. It has enough evidence and inputs on Canadian interference, while they lack them on Indian involvement. Ultimately the West and Canada will be compelled to back down.
(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)