Ujjal Dosanjh, the first Indian-origin minister of Canada, told IndiaToday.in that the Canadian government’s emphasis on freedom of expression has allowed Khalistani elements to flourish in the country. He also said the Khalisan movement was going to stay in Canada.
Ujjal Dosanjh says the real victims of the ongoing diplomatic row are the majority of Indo-Canadians who are peace-loving. (Photo: Press Information Bureau)
There is little trust between India and Canada now as Ottawa is not explicit in condemning Sikh extremists calling for the dismemberment of a friendly country, says Ujjal Dosanjh, a former Canadian minister of Indian origin.
Ujjal Dosanjh spoke to IndiaToday.in on a range of subjects: from the sliding Indo-Canadian ties, the roots of the Khalistani movement in Canada and why Justin Trudeau’s hobnobbing with Sikh extremists has created trust issues with the Indian government.
Ujjal Dosanjh was the premier of British Columbia. He was also a member of parliament from 2004-11 with the Liberal Party, whose current leader is Justin Trudeau. He served as the minister of health of Canada from 2004-06.
Dosanjh, a prominent voice of moderate Sikhs in Vancouver, was attacked by Khalistanis outside a parking lot in February 1985 after he spoke out against the extremist elements. The attack left him with a broken hand and 80 stitches on his head. Despite this, Dosanjh has remained a harsh critic of the extremist elements in the Sikh religion.
Here are some excerpts from the exclusive conversation with him:
Q. What do you think about the allegation made by Justin Trudeau against India and New Delhi’s reaction to it?
When you expel a diplomat, the country reacts in what is called a tit-for-tat move. Trudeau made a statement in the House of Commons, catapulting this issue to a sky-high level.
There is very little trust on either side. India does not trust Trudeau because he has been seen hobnobbing with the Khalistanis ever since his leadership campaign. One of his most senior advisors and cabinet ministers was alleged to have been Khalistanis. He is now supported in government by Jagmeet Singh, who is a known Khalistani.
The other reason India does not want to trust Trudeau is because they (members of the Canadian government) always take refuge under freedom of expression… that everyone has the right to express. But if you consider India a friendly country and a fellow democracy, then you have an obligation as the leader of Canada to tell your citizens that look guys, you have the right to demand Khalistan but my government does not support the dismemberment of a friendly nation. They never said that. In fact, no Canadian politician has said that.
Q. And what about India’s role?
From an international point of view, if India has done this (had a role in Nijjar’s killing), even as Trudeau has given no evidence so far, then it is wrong. You can’t go across the border and get people assassinated.
The appropriate action for India should have been to initiate an extradition process (for Nijjar) as it did in the case of the young Sidhu woman who was killed in India but her murder was planned in Canada. That would have been the appropriate route in Nijjar’s case because he was accused of many things by India.
On the other hand, Narendra Modi is not seen as a democrat. He is not seen as a leader who acts to protect minorities in his own country. Then you suspect that perhaps Narendra Modi is capable of doing what Trudeau has accused him of.
Q. Do you think Canada has seen the most radical face of Sikh extremism outside India?
Oh yes. There’s no country where its citizens were killed (by Khalistanis) like in the case of Air India Kanishka disaster. No other country where an Indian minister was made the target of an assassination plot. Canada is the place where this movement has deeper roots.
Q. And why is that?
It’s pretty hard to isolate. But when you have a leadership that isn’t prepared to tell its citizens that please don’t try to dismember a friendly country and we don’t support what you are doing, then it feels like you are explicitly supporting them under the garb of freedom of expression which they (members of the Canadian government) do. Then it becomes natural for the movement to take hold and grow.
Q. In one of your recent interviews, you said the Canadian politicians used to see the Khalistan conflict as a ‘brown people versus brown people’ problem. Please explain this a little more.
Not only Khalistan. Right after 1984, violence took place between Khalistanis and the people who were against them — who told them ‘let’s not kill each other, let’s not do violence in Canada, let’s not undermine our future in this country’. The other Canadian politicians didn’t care, they thought brown guys were fighting brown guys and it didn’t affect them. Nobody did anything. Until the Air India disaster happened. That’s when they (Canadian politicians) woke up.
Q. Do you think the Khalistani movement in Canada will spill over to India?
I doubt it. The Khalistan movement is going to stay here in Canada only. When you go to India, when you live in Punjab, you live with non-Sikhs. They are your friends and family. They intermarry, they study and work together. All of the anger of 1984 has disappeared over time.
Whereas people who feel hurt, legitimately or not, against India or against the Indian government, there is no healing for them in Canada. They don’t live together (with other communities here). They go to their own temples, basically Hindus go to temples, Sikhs go to their gurdwaras. There is very little mingling between the Hindus and Sikhs, sometimes at wedding receptions maybe. People don’t realise that they are just like us, they didn’t hurt us, they are not our enemies.
Q. Why do Sikhs, not that sizeable a community, hold such sway in Canadian politics?
I don’t know whether they hold such a sway in politics. But they seem to have an influence with Trudeau better than they had with anybody else. Trudeau won his leadership on the strength of members made in Sikh gurdwaras across the country. But before Trudeau and hopefully after him, the Khalistanis hopefully won’t have such sway.
I mean the (Sikh) community having an influence is a wonderful thing. But if separatist elements hold such an influence, then it’s a problem.
Q. What’s Jagmeet Singh’s role in this?
I have seen videos of Jagmeet Singh years ago speaking at sovereignty conferences on Khalistan. He is a known Khalistani and now he supports Trudeau in the government.
Even before Jagmeet came on the scene, Trudeau was who he was. The only difference now is that you have two of them to deal with (in the government).
Q. How is Justin Trudeau different from his father, Pierre, who also rejected the Indian government’s warnings on the Khalistani threat during his term as prime minister of Canada?
There is no comparison between the two. Justin Trudeau lacks the political conviction of his father. Trudeau Sr. was a lawyer, constitutional scholar, and activist.
(Justin) Trudeau is more enamoured by identity politics. It’s easy for him to latch onto any little group that wants different treatment.
Q. How do you think the India-Canada ties are going to shape up now? Do you see any normalisation soon?
There is no trust between the governments. I don’t see the governments trying to normalise things anytime soon. I think it will be only after either Narendra Modi or Justin Trudeau are gone from power, that reconciliation will be reached between the two countries.
Q. Don’t you think that expelling a diplomat based on allegations is a bit far-fetched move by Trudeau?
Trudeau hasn’t shared the evidence with anybody and it is not known what kind of evidence it is. You can criticise him for not putting on record any evidence, but it is difficult to condemn him for what he did. Because if he indeed has the evidence, then what he said is legitimate, irrespective of whether he should have handled it the way he has.
That’s why even Canadians are asking him for evidence.
Q. In India, the government’s reaction to the Canadian Prime Minister’s allegations has met with cheers. What’s your take on that?
The problem is that the Indians, who are happy, don’t realise the real victims here are 98 per cent of the Indo-Canadians who are peace-loving. They want to visit India for various reasons, like weddings, birth and death in the family, and selling or buying property. Now they can’t do it.
Sep 24, 2023