Why we must take Justin Trudeau seriously

He is in the habit of making a cake of himself, the Canadian prime minister. And yet, he has three of the other four ‘Five Eyes’ looking assessingly at India. It gives one to think…

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (Photo: NH archives)
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (Photo: NH archives)

Sujata Anandan

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau may be seen as a maverick and a joker by both the Indian media and those in his own country, but I would not dismiss his charges against India as being of no consequence. 

I have no sympathy for Canadian Sikhs sitting in the lap of the safest democracy in the world and dreaming of Khalistan — they are grossly out of touch with reality, for I do not think Sikhs in India want a Khalistan at all.

It was always an operation fuelled by Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) through some out-of-touch Sikhs living for decades in London. Their hope? To destroy India for its break-up of Pakistan by supporting the creation of Bangladesh.

However, when a prime minister of a leading western democracy makes a statement like the one Trudeau did in parliament, when he shares information reports within the Five Eyes intelligence pact and those five seem to support him in calling for investigation while reacting to India’s outrage with caution, there is surely a snowballing of diplomatic adjustments set in motion and it is best that we sit up and take notice.

I am rather startled that most Indian journalists believe that Trudeau is taking India down in response to the alleged cold shoulder turned to him during his solo visit with family (this was not for the G20), with no government welcome at the time. 

I thought he richly deserved the wariness on display, really, for even British prime minister Rishi Sunak with his Indian background and ties has not been so silly as to think that dressing like a Bollywood bridegroom would win him votes from the Indian community in his own country, nor has he ever played to the gallery on the Khalistan issue to woo the substantial number of Sikhs in Britain.

Sikh terrorists operating on Canadian soil had blown up the Air India craft Kanishka, originating in Canada, in the early 1980s—and Trudeau should know Khalistan fanatics would not be sympathetic to him or fellow Canadians if terrorising Canada helped their cause.

A terrorist is a terrorist is a terrorist. Period. And there can be no wooing of them. Nor can a prime minister be so silly as to invite attention to his humiliation with a charge so serious as this one — and, after all, he did come back for the G20 summit without any issue on either side.

But the other argument of some in the India media is that he is playing to his home gallery—that is, the Sikh voters—the way Narendra Modi does to the Hindutva brigade in India while he is abroad (or indeed, as he did during the G20 New Delhi Summit). Or that he is doing to India via the Sikhs what Modi routinely does to Pakistan via Muslims. But I find that argument too a little far-fetched. 

For the Sikhs in Canada, though naturalised citizens, essentially have extra-terrestrial ambitions and do not really belong to Canada. Indian Muslims, on the other hand, are those who opted for India at Independence and are our own. They have no other ambition but to live and prosper in India. And they certainly have nowhere else to go, least of all to Pakistan, having rejected that option outright at Independence. The comparison refuses to hold water.

I would expect a man who won more than one election in a nation where educational standards are relatively high to know full well how to discern the grain from the chaff. And that is why I suspect Trudeau might be sitting on more information than he is letting on to his Indian counterpart at the moment. 

What one must also note is that Avtar Singh Khanda, the self-styled chief of the Khalistan Liberation Force, who had attempted to hoist a Khalistan flag at the Indian High Commission in London died at a hospital in Birmingham just a few months after Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing in Canada. Khanda’s supporters too are accusing the Indian intelligence agencies of having poisoned him. 

Then, again, the yet-unconfirmed ‘death by road accident’ of Gurpatwant Singh Pannu, founder of Sikhs for Justice, another radical Khalistani advocate in California, a couple of months ago cannot be waved off as mere coincidence. To quote Ian Fleming of James Bond fame, once could be happenstance, twice could be coincidence but thrice is definitely time for enemy action.

If the Indian intelligence agencies are indeed taking action against the nation’s enemies, then I can only regret that they have been so ham-fisted about it. It is not as though so many other nations — including, of course, the US — do not take similar action against their enemies on foreign soil. But for the Canadian investigators to join the dots and present a credible report to their prime minister that he is confident enough to internationalise the issue over? That takes some real amateurish clumsiness. 

That it drives other Khalistan proponents in these countries underground also quite defeats the entire exercise. 

Moreover, that yet another government — Australia’s — is also emboldened to say that the desecration of Hindu temples in Sydney and Melbourne was actually done by right-wing Hindus themselves in order to frame the Sikhs, that endangers the whole Indian Hindu diaspora all over the world.

Given that this right-wing Hindu diaspora is materially and culturally supporting the current regime, I wonder who is whose friend here and who is the real enemy being targetted.

An Indian intelligence officer I know once told me that such operations are very difficult for Indian agencies to accomplish with any finesse because of innumerable issues within ourselves, a problem the West does not have— multiple languages, accents, cultural and social taboos, food habits, all contribute to making it difficult for Indian agents of distinct ethnicities to infiltrate target organisations without ultimately getting caught out rather quickly. So they have to seek other fool proof means to achieve their goals. 

But if poisoning, gunning down or crashing a car is the best our agents can do without raising instant suspicion, then they should try reading Chanakya’s Arthashastra on how to gather intelligence and eliminate the enemy rather than resort to James Bond’s more flamboyant tactics.

Meanwhile, if US president Joe Biden and Trudeau did both raise the issue with Modi at the G20 summit and if even Britain adopts a wait-and-watch attitude, I would like to await the publication of the evidence by Canada.

That Trudeau refused to share the evidence with Modi does not say anything. From his point of view, he is being cautious in his country’s interest, lest he alert the Indian authorities to what he might know.

But that is also why the right-wing ecosystem is so angry — that a maverick like Trudeau does not trust the ‘Vishwaguru’ shows the West really does not have as much regard for Modi as the bigots would like us to believe. 

Meanwhile, that the Five Eyes alliance — which includes the US, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, besides Canada — has taken Canada’s claims seriously and has raised concerns about the reality of the situation should be taken as a grave concern by Indian diplomats, surely?

For at the end of the day, never mind Modi’s multi-billion dollar deals with the West, if push comes to shove, we all know who they will back. One of themselves. Someone they trust. That would be Ottawa. Not New Delhi.

(Views are personal)

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