INTERVIEW | PM Trudeau’s allegations are 'wild and preposterous', says ex-Indian envoy to Canada
Ambassador Vishnu Prakash says the Canadian PM's latest remarks demonstrate the extent of influence that the Khalistani elements exercise over the nation’s polity.
NEW DELHI: India's former's Ambassador to Canada Vishnu Prakash has termed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation that Indian agents were involved in the assassination of slain Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar as "wild, preposterous and shocking beyond words."
In conversation with Yeshi Seli, Amb. Prakash said that Canada seems to be turning a blind eye towards the activities of Khalistani elements. He was India’s Ambassador to Canada when Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, made his first visit to Canada in 2015, which he recalls as being a huge success.
Excerpts from the conversation...
What are your views on the Canadian Prime Minister’s allegation that India is responsible for the killing of radical Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar?
Such a wild and preposterous allegation, without a shred of evidence, against the world's largest democracy is unbelievable and shocking beyond words. India has already dismissed it as 'absurd and motivated'. It demonstrates the extent of influence that the Khalistani elements exercise over the nation’s polity. It also represents a futile attempt to deflect attention from the anti-India activities of the separatists operating from Canadian soil.
The recently concluded G20 Summit, showed the uneasiness between India and Canada as PM Modi raised the issue of Khalistani extremism and PM Trudeau defended freedom of speech. Where is all this going to head?
It is unfortunate that Canadian political parties especially the Liberals turn Nelson’s eye towards activities of Khalistani elements. This has been going on for decades now and has naturally cast a shadow over bilateral relations. The matter has been repeatedly taken up with successive administrations at all levels in Canada. They keep harping on freedom of speech knowing well that it cannot extend to inciting violence against the Indian diplomats in Canada and hatred towards India or for that matter-prejudicing India’s unity and territorial integrity.
Is there any possible solution to this ongoing strain of relations between India and Canada?
Given the extent of synergies India and Canada are natural partners. Our economies supplement each other. Canadian pension funds have invested some USD 70 billion in India. We are both democracies and multicultural societies. The Indian diaspora now comprises some 5 per cent of the Canadian population. Over 200,000 Indians study in Canada. As such both sides are bound to find a modus vivendi hopefully sooner than later.
If we go back in time, when did the support for Khalistani extremists begin in Canada?
It began in the late 1970s and early 1980s during the time of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who is the father of the present Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau.
You were the Ambassador to Canada when PM Modi made his first visit. What went on in that trip? What is a success diplomatically?
The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in April 2015. This was after a gap of 42 years (PM Indira Gandhi had last visited Canada in 1973). PM Modi’s visit was a resounding success and imparted a huge boost to bilateral economic, trade, security, political and cultural ties. At the time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper (representing the conservative party) stated publicly that "Canada overwhelmingly stands by the unity and integrity of India."
What are the chances of India and Canada’s relationship normalising? Is there a possible thaw likely anytime soon?
Given our commonalities and mutual benefits, I have no doubt whatsoever that our ties will not only normalise but flourish in the years ahead.
How widespread is the threat of Khalistani extremism in Canada at present?
Khalistani elements comprise a small percentage of the Sikh diaspora in Canada. However, they control some gurudwaras in Canada which provides them with financial support. They indulge in violence and coercion to intimidate opponents and the overwhelmingly peaceful and moderate community into silence. A number of Canadian political leaders, ministers and members of parliament have pro-Khalistani leanings.
There have been allegations that Khalistani supporters have been supporting political parties back home in India. What are your views on the same?
There are reports, though mostly unsubstantiated, that they provide financial and material support to political parties in Canada and undesirable elements in India. Efforts are underway to block the flow to India.
You must be aware that at the beginning of September Canada paused the India-Canada Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks. Who would stand to lose more?
Multilateral and bilateral trading arrangements qualitatively enhance trade and economic linkages. India and Canada have been negotiating for an FTA or CEPA (comprehensive economic partnership agreement) since 2010. The discussions on the Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) picked up pace in recent months. The Canadian side has paused the talks to carry out internal consultations with stakeholders. Both sides will gain upon the conclusion of the agreement.