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India-Canada diplomatic row: BJP and Congress slam Justin Trudeau, Akalis want PM Modi to ‘present all facts’

The Congress and BJP state units in Punjab on Tuesday criticised Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for alleging a “potential link” between the Indian government and the killing of pro-Khalistan leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June, while the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) said the allegations were a “cause of serious concern” that must be “taken seriously” and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should “present all the facts before the nation”. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said it would decide on commenting on the issue after Modi addresses the issue.

State Congress president Amrinder Singh Raja Warring told The Indian Express, “It is ridiculous what Trudeau has said. Canadian PM is directly blaming India. How can he blame India without any proof? His statement could be detrimental to Punjab. What he has said is provocative. Thousands of people talk about Khalistan … It is unfortunate that someone was murdered. Someone killed someone, how can be India held responsible for this? This is ridiculous.”

Labelling Trudeau’s remarks as “highly irresponsible”, BJP national executive member and former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh said in a media statement, “Trudeau, unfortunately, walked into a trap owing to vote bank politics and put at stake the diplomatic relationship between India and Canada … It is an irrefutable fact that the Trudeau administration in Canada has given a free hand to anti-India forces in that country.”

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Singh said Indian missions in Canada were attacked and diplomats were intimidated but there was “no corrective action” by the Canadian government. “Has the Canadian government taken any action against the culprits who attacked Indian missions there? … Trudeau by leveling such allegations was only trying to deflect the attention from his own failures to curb anti-India activities in that country.”

The former Punjab CM said when he met Trudeau in Amritsar in 2018 during the Canadian PM’s visit, he shared all the information on “how Canadian land was being used against India”. Nijjar’s name was among a list of nine suspected terrorist handlers that Singh handed over to Trudeau at the time. “Instead of seeing the Canadian government taking any remedial measures, there was an increase in anti-India activities in that country.”

The former CM said he refused to meet former Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan during his India visit in 2017 because “he (Sajjan) was associated with the World Sikh Organisation which had a record of working against India”. Singh praised the Union government’s decision to expel a Canadian diplomat in reciprocal action.

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State BJP chief Sunil Jakhar said Trudeau’s remarks were unsubstantiated and absurd. He told The Indian Express, “India does not need to indulge in this kind of thing. India does not believe in extrajudicial killings. We are opposed to acts of terrorism, be it anywhere in the world. We are capable of going after terrorists like we did in (2019) Balakot (air strike in Pakistan), but not in any clandestine manner anywhere as has been alleged.”

Jakhar said, India reserves its right to defend its sovereignty and integrity and alleged internal gang rivalries could be behind behind Nijjar’s murder. “The Canadian government’s domestic political compulsions should not dictate its diplomatic stance by making such unsubstantiated and absurd allegations,” Jakhar said. Later, in a post on X, the BJP leader called on all the parties in Punjab to “speak in one voice” and support the government in its efforts to stop the Canadian government’s “attempt to interfere in Punjab’s matters”.

Akali Dal’s appeal

In a statement on X, the Akali Dal said, “We, the Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular, have made unparalleled sacrifices for the independence, security and integrity of the nation and there can never be a compromise on that. The current developments around relations between India & Canada are extremely worrying as this will adversely affect the lives and livelihood of our people, especially our young students in Canada. The recent statement of the Canadian Prime Minister is a cause of serious concern. The Shiromani Akali Dal urges both the governments of Canada and India to settle the matter not with a confrontationist but with a statesman-like approach.”

Akali Dal spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said the diplomatic crisis was a “very serious issue” and urged that PM Modi come out with the facts.“The manner in which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has levelled serious allegations on Hindustan, I think is a very big and serious issue. It should be taken very seriously since it is related to the reputation of our country. We are the largest democracy and such accusation against us is a very serious thing. Our PM should present facts before the nation. A large number of Indians have settled in Canada for a long time and have business and other ties back home. Hope PM will present all the facts before the nation.”

Senior Akali leader and former MLA Virsa Singh Valtoha — a former militant who was arrested from the Golden Temple premises after Operation Blue Star — said Trudeau’s comments were worrisome and had “a very deep meaning”.

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Valtoha told The Indian Express, “What Trudeau has said is not a political statement. He said this in the Canadian Parliament and all leaders, including the Opposition leaders, were on the same page with him. This is worrisome and has a very deep meaning. The government should take it very seriously and if it has anything credible to deny the remarks, it should counter the allegations. Merely, expelling a Canadian diplomat in reaction to the expulsion of the Indian diplomat by Canada is not going to convince the Sikh community.”

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Former Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra said, “Our relations with Canada should remain cordial. A large number of Indians, particularly Punjabis are settled in Canada. The indifference shown by India to Canada is not a good thing. Trudeau only pointed towards the problems of his country and the system which was in place there. He has not said anything in favour of the Khalistani movement, but has talked about the Canadian system which is in place, their rules and traditions.”

The Shiromani Akali Dal (Amritsar), which is headed by Sangrur MP Simranjit Singh Mann, posted on X, “What @SimranjitSADA feared and raised in Indian Parliament has finally been confirmed today by Canadian PM @JustinTrudeau in Parliament that Canadian intelligence believes that the Indian state was involved in the extrajudicial assassination of S Hardeep Singh Nijjar.” Mann is a proponent of the cause of Khalistan, or a separate homeland for Sikhs.

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AAP leaders refused to comment on the issue, with one saying on the condition of anonymity, “Let the Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak on the issue first, then we will see.”

— With inputs from Kanchan Vasdev

© The Indian Express (P) Ltd

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