India has suspended visa services in Canada citing security threats and asked Ottawa to prune its diplomats in Delhi, further escalating a diplomatic row over the killing of a Sikh separatist on Canadian soil.
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Sikhs For Justice, a separatist group operating from Canada and outlawed in India, has called for protests next week to “shut down” Indian missions in Canada following the fatal shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a temple on 18 June.
Nijjar was a key figure in the movement demanding a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan.
India designated him a terrorist in 2020.
Canada’s PM Justin Trudeau has enraged New Delhi by suggesting Indian agents may have been behind the killing.
On Thursday, India announced that it was suspending new visas for Canadians.
“You are aware of the security threats being faced by our high commissions and consulates in Canada,” foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in Delhi.
“This has disrupted their normal functioning. Accordingly our commissions and consulates are temporarily unable to process visa applications,” he added.
The decision to suspend visa services for Canadians, amid heightened tensions between India and Canada will badly impact Punjabis who have now taken Canadian citizenship.
A large number of Indian Diaspora have families living back home including elderly parents & siblings whom… pic.twitter.com/Vqe7KWLogi
— Amarinder Singh Raja Warring (@RajaBrar_INC) September 21, 2023
The restrictions will also apply to Canadian citizens in third countries wanting to visit India.
India upped the ante in the unprecedented row between two open democracies, calling on Ottawa to downsize its diplomatic corps.
“We have informed the Canadian government that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in our mutual diplomatic presence,” Bagchi said.
“Their numbers here are much higher than ours in Canada and I assume there would be a reduction from the Canadian side,” he argued.
PHOTO | “There’s a degree of prejudice, to us these allegations seem to be primarily politically driven,” says @MEAIndia spokesperson Arindam Bagchi amid the India-Canada diplomatic row.
(Source: Third Party) pic.twitter.com/69XtRJwnvL
— Press Trust of India (@PTI_News) September 21, 2023
On Tuesday, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat in connection with the Nijjar shooting in British Columbia, which has a large Sikh community.
A day earlier, India sent back a Canadian diplomat after Trudeau said he had raised the murder during talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the 9-10 September G20 summit in Delhi.
Trudeau was reportedly snubbed during the summit for levelling the allegation of Indian interference without providing proof to back it up.
“In the strongest possible terms, I continue to urge the government of India… to get to the bottom of this matter,” Trudeau said as Delhi insisted Ottawa must share information on insurgents holed up in Canada, home to 800,000 Sikhs.
“No specific information has been shared by Canada on this case either then, or before or after,” spokesman Bagchi said.
Delhi meanwhile has issued an advisory warning its nationals of potential threats in Canada, home to 1.8 million Indian nationals.
“Given the deteriorating security environment in Canada, Indian students in particular are advised to exercise extreme caution and remain vigilant,” it stated.
Shashi Tharoor, a former UN diplomat working with India’s main opposition Congress party, said India was well within its rights to seek explanations from Canada over the allegation.
“Many Indians have been seething at the way in which people are flagrantly inciting violence against our country … but we valued our relationship with Canada and we have not raised our concerns beyond a certain point.
“I would have expected Canada to have valued the relationship as well,” Tharoor said.
Veena Sekri, a former Indian diplomat, told the media Trudeau appeared to have walked into a trap set up by radical Sikhs, a crucial part of his vote base.
“This assassination took place three months ago and there must have been an ongoing investigation by the Canadian police and not a shred of evidence has been provided,” she said.
“On the other hand Trudeau goes and makes a statement in parliament and then decides to go and expel a senior Indian diplomat… this is absolutely unheard of.”
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