Khalistan back in focus with Nijjar anniversary, Nikhil extradition

Canada claims to have cracked Nijjar’s murder by arresting a few young people.
An illustration of slain Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
An illustration of slain Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.Express Illustrations

The picture of a frosty handshake Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the recent G7 summit captured the tense bilateral relations ever since Khalistani radical Hardeep Singh Nijjar was bumped off in Canada on June 18 last year. Modi’s bland description on his official X account, “Met Canadian PM @JustinTrudeau at the G7 Summit,” had the chill of the Arctic built into it. It garnered about 5 million views. At the other end of the spectrum was Modi’s “Long live India-Italy friendship!” response to an exceptionally glowing selfie along with the host and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Maloni. Her accompanying audio message, “Hello from the Melodi team,” made eyes pop and drew 19 million views.

Trudeau later said both sides agreed to work together to deal with important issues, without elaboration. With the Nijjar death anniversary on Tuesday, more pro-Khalistani noises can be expected in Canada. India repeatedly chastised Canada, saying glorifying violence cannot be part of any civilised society, adding intimidation by radical elements in the name of freedom of expression is unacceptable in a democracy. But Trudeau’s liberal lexicon apparently lets vote-bank politics make contortions to define democracy differently. Canada claims to have cracked Nijjar’s murder by arresting a few young people. The outcome of the case is awaited.

In a related development, Indian national Nikhil Gupta, accused in a murder-for-hire plot against Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has been extradited from the Czech Republic to the US. Prosecutors allege Gupta hired a hitman to kill Pannun and his handler was an Indian government official. The extradition came right before the ongoing visit of US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan to Delhi for talks on emerging technologies. 

The extradition and the Nijjar anniversary have brought Khalistani separatism back on the front burner. It has pockets of support in Punjab—radical leader Amritpal Singh recently wrested the Khadoor Sahib Lok Sabha seat from his Assam jail with a margin of 1.97 lakh votes. Sarabjeet Singh Khalsa, son of former PM Indira Gandhi’s assassin Beant Singh, won the Faridkot seat as an independent. These are worrying signs. The Pannun case trial will be keenly watched, as it will test the resilience of India’s foreign policy under the new government.

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