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What is the Khalistani Movement? How is it affecting India-Canada relations?

How did the tensions stir between India and Canada?

On September 18, 2023, Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, accused India of playing a major role in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistani leader. After Nijjar's killing, the Khalistani movement has once again become a point of discussion. The incident took place in Canada on June 18 this year. However, India and several other countries have condemned this baseless allegation as it was said without any evidence. 

Who was Hardeep Singh Nijjar?

On June 19, Nijjar was the target of a fatal attack by unidentified gunmen. Nijjar was leaving Surrey, Vancouver's Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, and was declared a “terrorist” in India. Several groups and individuals linked with the Khalistani movement are listed as “terrorist organizations” and “terrorists” under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) by National Investigation Agency. Nijjar’s name also appeared to be on the UAPA list made by the Indian National Investigation Agency in 2020. He worked closely with Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the leader of the Sikhs for Justice, as the commander of the Khalistan Tiger Force.

The killings of the Khalistani leaders this year

In early May, Paramjit Singh Panjwar was fatally shot in Lahore, Pakistan. Panjwar was the chief of the terrorist organization Khalistan Commando Force and was declared as a terrorist by Indian authorities. Additionally, another Khalistani activist, Avtar Singh, who was the chief of the Khalistan Liberation Force, passed away on June 15 in Birmingham, UK. His supporters claimed that Khanda was poisoned but the West Midlands police in the UK confirmed to the media that the death was not suspicious and therefore, they closed the case. On March 19, 2023, Khanda removed the Indian flag from the Indian high commission in the UK, which caused a stir between the UK and India. Indian officials claimed that the recent killings of the Khalistani leaders can suggest internal turmoil within the groups.

The history of the Khalistani Movement

The Khalistan movement was started in India around the Independence of India and Pakistan during the 1940s. The Khalistani movement is a Sikh separatist movement demanding a separate homeland for the Sikh community. In 1952, Jawaharlal Nehru cracked down on the demand of the Sikh community for the establishment of a Punjabi-speaking autonomous state. The decision led to conflicts between the Hindu and Sikh communities. In 1966, the state of Punjab was created. 

In the 1970s and 1980s, the Khalistani movement gained its momentum. The movement turned into a violent one for over a decade and was suppressed by the Indian government with the crackdown in which thousands of pro-Khalistani members and leaders were killed, who were allegedly participating in anti-India activities. 

In 1984, the Indian government conducted Operation Bluestar for the separatists who were taking refuge in the Golden Temple, Amritsar. It resulted in bloodshed where according to the Indian government approximately 400 people were killed. However, according to the Sikh community, the actual number of people killed was in the thousands. The deaths also included the murder of the pro - Khalistani leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale who considered himself an authentic voice of the Sikhs. 

On 31 October 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who gave the order for the Blue Star Operation, was murdered by her two Sikh bodyguards which resulted in anti - Sikh riots in Northern India. 

The following year, in 1985, a bomb exploded on an Air India flight, which resulted in the killing of 329 people on board. Indian authorities accused the Canada-based separatist of their involvement in the explosion. 

The present state of the Khalistani movement

The Khalistani movement in India is not virtually present and has been inactive for decades. It doesn’t enjoy any support from any political parties in India. But, the movement is highly active in other countries, especially Canada which has the second-largest population in the world. The movement is also active in the UK, United States, and Australia. 

India has requested the UK, the United States, Canada, and Australia to take legal action against the pro - Khalistani leaders and also issued 16 look-out circulars for the pro-Khalistani leaders. 

The rising tension between India - Canada

After Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s comments over India’s involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, the tension between India and Canada has escalated. The Canadian government has mentioned investigating any external involvement. While speaking at a press conference in Montreal, Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau mentioned working with its allies constructively and seriously. 

India has suspended the visa - -processing services in Canada. Indian Nationals have also advised the Indian citizens and students residing in Canada to take extra caution due to security reasons. 


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