The Indian government has rejected what it calls “absurd” allegations that its agents may be behind the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a B.C. Sikh leader, and is expelling a Canadian diplomat in return.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the bombshell allegation in the House of Commons on Monday, saying Canadian intelligence agencies had “credible” evidence agents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government played a role in the June slaying of 45-year-old Nijjar.
“Over the past number of weeks, Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen,” Trudeau said.
“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty. It is contrary to the fundamental rules by which free, open and democratic societies conduct themselves.”
The Indian government Tuesday rejected allegations of involvement in Nijjar’s death, calling them “absurd and motivated.”
“Such unsubstantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.
Furthermore, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said an unnamed senior Canadian diplomat has been asked to leave India within the next five days.
“The decision reflects Government of India’s growing concern at the interference of Canadian diplomats in our internal matters,” it said.
Nijjar was killed in the parking lot of his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C. on June 18.
While Sikh community leaders in Canada have insisted the Indian government was involved, police previously said they had not made any link to foreign interference.
Both Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly and Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc raised foreign interference as a concern in a press conference discussing the allegations on Monday.
“This would be a grave violation of our sovereignty and of the most basic rule of how countries deal with each other. We’ve been clear — we will not tolerate any form of foreign interference,” Joly said.
“Justice Hogue’s terms of reference allow her to follow the evidence,” added LeBlanc, referencing the commissioner now leading a foreign interference inquiry.
“We assume that she and the security agencies will do what’s necessary for her inquiry to also look at the ways that India interferes in Canada.”
India’s biggest opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), has said India must be “uncompromising” in its fight against terrorism in response to the allegation.
Jairam Ramesh, an Indian Member of Parliament with the party, addressed the matter on Tuesday.
“The Indian National Congress has always believed that our country’s fight against terrorism has to be uncompromising, especially when terrorism threatens India’s sovereignty, unity and integrity,” he said.
Ramesh, who is the general secretary in charge of communication for the INC, said, “Our country’s interests and concerns must be kept paramount at all times.”
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His comments come despite the centre-left party being ideologically bitterly opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Indian National Congress has been in power for much of India’s post-independence history, including during the administration of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In 1984, Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, which led to bloody riots and anti-Sikh violence in the capital city New Delhi and other parts of northern India. Several leaders of the INC were implicated in the violence and were accused of leading angry mobs against Sikhs.
India had issued an arrest warrant against Nijjar for his advocacy for a separate Sikh state in India’s Punjab region, which activists call Khalistan.
The Khalistan movement, which began in India’s northwestern Sikh-majority state of Punjab, is seen as an affront to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of India.
In 2018, during Trudeau’s India visit, then Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had handed a list of nine people he called “Khalistani radicals” living in Canada to Trudeau.
On Tuesday, Singh — who has since left the Congress party — said Trudeau had ignored his warnings.
“The claims by the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau that there was an Indian hand in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjer are completely baseless and he’s only playing to the vote bank gallery,” he said on X, formerly called Twitter.
Singh added, “During his visit to Amritsar in 2018, I had brought to the notice of Mr Justin Trudeau as to how the Canadian land was being used against India, still the Canadian govt failed to take any remedial measures so far.”
Earlier on Monday, Joly said that Canada was expelling India’s Pavan Kumar Rai, who she said heads up India’s foreign intelligence agency in Canada.
What are Canada's allies saying?
Canada’s allies are weighing in on the development as well.
“We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau,” said White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
“We remain in regular contact with our Canadian partners. It is critical that Canada’s investigation proceed and the perpetrators be brought to justice.”
A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the nation is “closely engaged with partners on developments.”
“We have conveyed our concerns at senior levels to India,” they said.
Britain said Tuesday it was in close touch with its Canadian partners about the “serious allegations.”
“We are in close touch with our Canadian partners about these serious allegations,” a government spokesperson said.
“It would be inappropriate to comment further during the ongoing investigation by the Canadian authorities.”
— with files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters