It’s Essential To De-Escalate The Canada-India Diplomatic Row

It is in the interest of both countries to de-escalate; for that, the two governments should stop talking at each other.

I went to Ottawa as deputy high commissioner in 1982. The high commissioner left, and I was acting high commissioner in 1983-85, during which time the Blue Star Operation (June 1984) and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (October 1984) occurred. Some Sikhs in Toronto distributed sweets after the assassination.

Before the assassination, I was attacked by the Khalistanis in Winnipeg, where I went to call on the premier of the province of Manitoba. Thanks to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) accompanying me, I was not seriously injured. I got eggs on my head, and somebody with a long stick hit me. The RCMP could have handled it better. The Canadian high commissioner was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs. A few days later, I got a personal letter of regret from the Canadian Prime Minister. I replied, thanking him. The matter ended there.

Let us look at the chronology. During the G20 summit in Delhi (9 and 10 September 2023), Prime Minister Trudeau was not given a formal bilateral meeting with his host. However, they did speak. Trudeau brought up the matter of the likely involvement of an Indian official in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a wanted person by India, and presumably asked for India’s cooperation in investigating the matter.

Modi categorically rejected any suggestion that India was in any way involved. A week before, Canada had asked for a ‘pause’ in the talks to finalise a trade and investment treaty. That was perhaps the first signal from Canada. The Canadian intelligence chief, too, was in India and met his counterparts at the time of the G20. The Canadian left for London from India, presumably to brief the counterpart there.

There is one important incoherence in Canada’s stance. On 18 September 2023, Trudeau at the House of Commons referred to ‘credible allegations’ about the involvement of an agent of the Government of India. However credible an allegation is, the investigation must be completed before anyone is charged. In fact, the word “allegation’ is rather bizarre in the context.

Hours later, the Canadian Foreign minister announced the expulsion of the head of India’s intelligence team in the High Commission holding the rank of Minister. She referred to the ‘allegations’ and added, ‘if proven true, this would be a violation of our sovereignty’. The words, if proven true, speak volumes about Canada’s incoherence in presenting its case.

However, it seems that Canada has more or less convinced the rest of the famous Five Eyes (the intelligence agencies of the U.S., U.K., Australia, and New Zealand) that it has a case. We may guess that the evidence Canada has is electronic as the two men who fired the shots and killed Nijjar near the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Surrey, of which he was the president, are still uncaught. The third who drove the getaway vehicle is also missing.

The U.K. has stated that this matter won’t hinder the ongoing trade and investment talks. Australia has publicly stated that it had taken up the matter with Indian officials, implying that Canada has a case worth looking into. Washington initially came out with a statement that it was ‘deeply concerned’ and that Canada should carry on with the investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.

That was put out on 19 September. After it came under criticism, the Biden Administration came out the next day urging India to ‘cooperate’ with Canada in the matter. Incidentally, though Trudeau said he was going to talk to French President Macron, we have yet to hear from Paris.

In short, though Trudeau might not have got as much support from the Five Eyes, the situation is dynamic. After Washington advised India to ‘cooperate’, India has now said that Canada has not shared evidence.

To my mind, Modi could have told Trudeau: We categorically reject the suggestion that we had anything to do with the matter. If you have evidence, do share it.” In such a case, after examining the evidence produced by Canada, India could have, with greater force, asserted its innocence in the matter.

Is Trudeau wise in asking for India’s ‘cooperation’ in investigating the matter? Perhaps not. If he suspects India’s hand, how can he be sure that the evidence shared with India will not be used by the latter to ‘protect’ the perpetrators?

Another important point is that after getting evidence of likely Indian involvement, Canada could have discreetly asked India to transfer the diplomat and continued with the investigation. Obviously, Trudeau, under pressure from the New Democratic Party (NDP), whose support is necessary for him to remain in office, decided to come out formally against India. The Sikhs are a political force to reckon with in Canada. He has acted in haste and might have to repent at leisure.

India, too, has not acted right. It is legitimate for India to demand security for its diplomatic missions other establishments, and for the Indian citizens there. It is incorrect to demand that the propaganda for Khalistan, including holding referenda, should not be permitted and that action should be taken against such Canadians.

We all know that Canada had in 1995 held a second referendum on Quebec’s separation. India should not conflate the Khalistan propaganda matter with the obligation of the host government under the Vienna Convention. The private referenda in Canada have no impact on Punjab, where there is no support for Khalistan. The private referenda get media attention mainly because of India’s drawing attention to them.

If India gets obsessed with the propaganda carried out by the Khalistanis in Canada and elsewhere, they will do more of it to spoil India’s relations with Canada and other countries. India should not fall into the trap set by them.

India needs to review its policy about posting RAW officers holding as high a rank as Minister looking after economic, cultural, and community matters. In the present case, the expelled individual is an IPS officer. One wonders whether any corporate executive will go to an intelligence officer to discuss economic matters. During my time, the highest post held by RAW was counsellor, and they dealt only with consular matters, apart from their intelligence work.

Even in the 1980s, the Khalistanis had worked hard to create a divide between the Sikhs and the Hindus. I remember that a young Indian lady was found murdered in a park in Montreal the day before Independence Day in 1983. The Kanishka airplane tragedy occurred in June 1985, killing 329 aboard. The Khalistanis placed a bomb on the plane. It was an attack on India. I was shocked to read that an Indo-Canadian leader now claims it was an attack on Hindus. The tension between extremists among Hindus and Sikhs, at times leading to violent clashes should not be encouraged by a responsible government.

There is an absurd belief among some in India that by getting tough, Canada can be compelled to surrender and that Trudeau might be unseated. It is wrong to treat this matter as a diplomatic duel between Modi and Trudeau.

India has suspended the issue of visas for ‘security’ reasons. Even E visas have been stopped. What is the security issue with an E visa? This might turn out to be an instance of self-goal. In 2022, there were 80000 tourist arrivals from Canada. All Indians holding Canadian Passports will be inconvenienced, not to speak of the loss of revenue for the hospitality sector in India.

The latest is that India has demanded that Canada should reduce the number of diplomats posted in India. The argument advanced is that there is a convention that there should be a rough parity in the numbers. The argument does not hold water and the 1961 Vienna Convention does not require parity.

The Canadian Pension Fund has invested in the Indian stock market $55 billion, and the two-way trade in goods and services amounts to more than $16 billion. It is not suggested that Canada will start withdrawing from the Indian market tomorrow or the day after.

The moot point is that the current level of economic engagement is far below the potential. As mentioned earlier, Canada has ‘paused’ the talks on trade and investment. Both countries will benefit from such a treaty. Will the talks resume before the present tension is removed? Unlikely.

We do not know now who was behind the killing of Najjar. However, if anybody in Delhi imagines that India can carry out such killings as Israel, the U.S., and Russia do and get away with it, that is a big mistake.

In conclusion, it is in the interest of both countries to de-escalate; for that, the two governments should stop talking at each other through the media.

How about appointing Special Representatives without telling the media? Let the two representatives meet in a neutral venue sans media glare and work out a formula ad-referendum for their respective governments. Should Biden suggest this to Ottawa and Delhi? He could, provided he does not boast about it to the media.

This article was published on

September 28th, 2023 | category:international-affairs |
domestic-affairs, international-affairs, politics

Deconstructing The Eighteenth Summit Of The G20

The G-20 is one more opportunity to make noise about Modi being a ‘Vishwaguru,’ much needed for the election battle ahead.

The eighteenth summit of the G20, representing 66 per cent of the world’s population, 85 per cent of GDP, 75 per cent of international trade, producing 80 per cent of pollution, organized by the host government with the elaborate choreography of a Wagnerian opera saw a diplomatic coup by India. Pundits, especially in the West, had confidently predicted that this summit might be the first one to end without a declaration. It is evident that India’s diplomats squared the circle on Ukraine. However, reflection shows that the drafting skills of the host alone cannot account for the outcome.

In the last G20 summit in Bali (November 2022), Indonesia, under Western pressure, invited President Zelensky, who spoke of “G19,” implying that Russia should be thrown out of the group. India stood up to the Western pressure, exerted this time as well, to invite Zelensky and earned brownie points from Moscow.

Paragraphs 8 to 14 of the declaration deal with the conundrum of the war between Ukraine (plus NATO) and Russia. There is no change in the positions of G20 states as reflected in their voting at the United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council. All states are bound to respect the UN Charter, which prohibits the use of force for territorial expansion. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is ‘inadmissible’. G-20 is not the forum for resolving ‘geopolitical and security issues’. In view of the enormous human suffering, all efforts should be made to have a cease-fire.

The Black Sea Grain Export arrangement should be revived. In that context, the Memorandum of Understanding between Russia and the U.N. Secretary-General on the lifting of Western sanctions in respect of food and fertilizer exports from Russia should be implemented.

There is no mention of Russia as the invader, which was there in the Bali declaration. We know that Russia suspended participation in the Black Sea Grain Export arrangement because the West did not lift the sanctions. In terms of the language, Russia has gained, and Ukraine has expressed its displeasure with the declaration, saying ‘stronger’ was called for.

Here, there is a factor that most commentators have ignored. In July 2023, Ukraine announced it would export grain without Russia’s cooperation. Russia responded by destroying the port facilities in Odessa port. Ukraine then tried to export to Romania through its ports on the Danube River.

Russia bombed those ports immediately before the G20 started. Ukraine finds itself in a situation of having to stop using the Romanian option. Ukraine hoped that NATO would respond if Russia violated Romania’s territorial integrity. Even after a part of a Russian missile fell into Romania twice, NATO has not taken note of it, though Poland said that Russia had violated the boundary of a NATO member-state.

In short, NATO, or rather President Biden standing for re-election, does not want a direct war with Russia. Therefore, if the Western sanctions on Russia’s export of grain and fertilizer are lifted, Ukraine can restart exports. However, we can understand that Ukraine had to protest for political reasons.

For two reasons, the West conceded more than Russia in terms of language. First, the West has assessed that Modi will get re-elected next year and, therefore, does not want to displease him. Second, if there is no joint declaration, the G-20 gets weakened, and the BRICS and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Council) might gain. The U.S. had once sought membership of the SCO in vain. The West is keen to promote the G20, though it realizes that the Global South might, through the G20, seek a change in the international order dominated by the West.

An important decision taken in Delhi was to accept the 55-member African Union as a full member. In June 2023, India, as chair, wrote seeking concurrence from others. In December 2022, Washington and Tokyo announced their support for the A.U., which had applied formally. The impression given by the mainstream Indian media that Modi ‘discovered’ Africa is rather amusing.

We know more about the menu at the 9th September dinner hosted by the President of Bharat – an important terminological change from ‘India’ – than about the discussions at the summit as the media was kept out. The White House had difficulty explaining to the American press why it could not meet the President in Delhi.

Ironically, a huge International Media Centre was there as part of the Bharat Mandapam constructed for the G20 at Rupees 3600 crore, as divulged by the External Affairs Minister of Lekhi. The total expenditure, as given by her, is Rs. 4254.75 crores. We need to wait for the CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) for the total.

The Delhi streets have Modi’s face everywhere. A writer had calculated that President Biden could have seen Modi’s face every 50 meters on his way from the airport to Hotel Maurya Sheraton. Will a Right to Know petition will inform us of the total amount spent on placing the face in many places?

President Xi Jinping and President Putin did not attend. Xi Jinping sent Prime Minister Li Qiang. Putin had the courtesy to phone Modi and say he was not coming. Foreign Minister Lavrov represented Russia.

There is much speculation about Xi Jinping’s decision. Perhaps he wanted to send a message to India. China is concerned about India getting closer to Washington. The recent visit to Taiwan by the retired chiefs of the army, air force, and navy to Taiwan might have ruffled China’s feathers. Probably, Xi Jinping did not want to discuss with Modi the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation along the so-called Line of Actual Control. Essentially, China wants a ‘unipolar’ Asia led by it and sees India as the main obstacle.

With 83 paragraphs and 44 annexed documents, the Delhi Declaration must be the longest G20 declaration. We do not know whether all the projects mentioned will be implemented. The G-20 has no permanent secretariat, and it is for the rotating chair to monitor the progress of implementation.

The summit provided opportunities for bilateral meetings. Modi had many, including one with Biden. One important announcement was establishing connectivity from India to Europe through the Gulf. India, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, and the E.U. have taken the decision. Within 60 days, officials are to work out the details.

This project is a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, to which India has taken objection because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor going through India’s territory under Pakistan’s occupation. It is worth noting that Italy has decided to get out of the agreement signed with China in this regard and that Italian Prime Minister Melloni was thinking of going to China to convey the decision formally. There is a report that she did convey the decision to China’s Prime Minister Li Qiang in Delhi.

Modi handed over the presidential gavel to Brazil’s President Lula da Silva. However, Modi announced that there should be another meeting in cyberspace before Brazil takes over formally in December 2023. That is one more opportunity to make noise domestically about Modi being a ‘Vishwaguru’ at the ‘historic’ G-20, much needed for the election battle ahead.

This article was published on

September 21st, 2023 | category:domestic-affairs, international-affairs, politics |

The Harambee Factor

The Harambee Factor, authored by Gurjit Singh, must be compulsory reading for those in charge of policy in Africa & India.

Even as a child, Gurjit Singh had a passion for Africa. Fortunately, after getting into the Indian Foreign Service, he was posted to Africa. He served as ambassador to Kenya and Ethiopia and then as joint secretary heading the Africa Division. Ergo, he is exceptionally qualified to write on relations between Africa and India.

The title of his book is intriguing. Right at the beginning, the author provides an etymology. Harambee, a Swahili word meaning pulling together in a cooperative spirit, perhaps has an Indian origin. The Indians who laid the Mombasa Kisumu railway often used the terms Hari and Ambe together when picking heavy loads or rail tracks. Hari meant Lord Vishnu, and Ambe meant Goddess Shakthi.

There are 12 chapters in all. The first one, titled Knock Knock: The Opportunity that is Africa, explains the importance of Africa. The opening words are memorable:

"When a man is coming to you, you need not say ‘Come here’"

With a population of 1.2 billion, likely to rise to 2.5 billion by 2050, and a workforce of 705 million now, likely to be well over 1 billion in the next ten years, Africa can be a market worth $3.3 trillion. The Africa Continental Free Trade Area (Af CFTA) was established in 2019. The reader might recall that other continents, Asia and America, do not have a continental free trade zone except for the European Union and Australia.

With 54 countries, Africa has a significant say in international affairs. India’s median age is 27, whereas Africa’s is 19. 26 African countries are classified as middle-income, and 27 are low-income, covering nearly half of the continent’s population.

The African Union (AU), established in 2002, has eight Commissions elected at the AU summit along with a Chairman and Deputy Chairman. There is a Commissioner for Peace and Security.

The reader might wonder what that Commissioner is doing in the context of the unfolding tragedy in Sudan. Of course, this book was written before the start of the current crisis in that country.

Moreover, the book focuses on economic and developmental cooperation. However, a helpful section on Political and Security Issues explains the work assigned to the Peace and Security Council.

The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established in 1963. The AU has announced a vision of AFRICA 2063: THE AFRICA WE WANT.

The second chapter, Old Neighbourhood, India’s Evolving Approach To Africa, opens with the proclamation Don’t set sail using someone else’s star. It draws attention to India’s leading role in the UN and NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) in accelerating the decolonisation of Africa.

This chapter gives an elaborate account of India’s Africa policy since 2001. In this context, the reader will be glad to know of the Pan-African E-Network Project (PAENP), proposed by India’s technically knowledgeable President, Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, in 2005.

It was implemented by 2009, and the author co-chaired the first meeting of the coordinating committee. As the author notes, with his characteristic eye for detail, the project’s title does not mention India.

With regard to the “constant comparison” between India and China, the author takes a reasoned attitude. India is not competing with China. African countries do not look at India and China the same way and quantitatively compare the assistance.

China provides aid massively and has built stadia, parliaments, roads, and buildings, including the African Union Commission headquarters. As a soft power, India has given PAENP capacity-building capabilities, training, education, etc.

In 1958, Ethiopia wanted to have its own military academy. Emperor Haile Selassie 1 was ruling Ethiopia. The USA was keen to undertake the project. But the Emperor chose India.

In 1936, the Indian National Congress had marked an Abyssinia Day to oppose Italian dictator Mussolini’s invasion. India carried out the project, successfully replicating the Khadakwasla Academy. The Emperor was overthrown in a coup in 1974, and four years later, the academy was shut down.

The holding of periodic summits with Africa starting from 2008, three in all till now, has deepened India-Africa relations. India increased the number of scholarships from 500 in the first summit to 1100 in the second to 1600 in the third.

Another significant offer from India was establishing 21 institutions for vocational training and other purposes. Some institutions are at the pan-Africa level, others at a regional level, and some at a bilateral level.

The author makes one or two critical points. While India’s engagement with Africa increased exponentially, the human resources allotted to the territorial divisions dealing with that continent did not keep pace. Two, the budget allocation for Africa did not keep pace either.

The Ministry of External Affairs shortlisted a few Civil Society Organizations in India to work in Africa. The Bare Foot College is one of them, focusing on local schools and rainwater harvesting.

A team from Ethiopia visited Tilonia in Rajasthan. Solar lighting was added, too. The program was a success and was added to ITEC (Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation). By 2020, the Bare Foot College was active in 41 African countries.

SEWA (Self-Employed Women’s Association) is another success story, though it could work only in three of the five countries chosen.

The author notes that India has not drawn the right lessons from what these two CSOs were able to achieve.

India started extending a Line of Credit to Africa in 2003. For example, India offered a Line of Credit of $1.9 billion in 2007-2008, $1.9 billion in 2008-2009, $3 billion in 2011-2012, and $5 billion in 2015-16 to 2019-2020. The author points out the need for scholars to study the track record of these Lines of Credit. The author has provided a good analysis.

The author gives several sensible suggestions for further action in the last two chapters.

This well-researched book must be compulsory for those in charge of policy in Africa and India. It is encyclopedic in its coverage.

The G20, which has admitted the African Union as a member, should look at this book. Since the G20 has no permanent secretariat, it will be for India, Brazil, and South Africa to act. This book should be translated into Portuguese to start with.

The article was published on

September 20th, 2023 | category:book-reviews |

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