In the second half of September, a relatively minor – at least in terms of international developments – and seemingly already forgotten incident which occurred three months ago in Canada rather unexpectedly took on global political significance. However, it had already cast a certain shadow on Canada’s relations with India.
We are talking about the murder of a Sikh community leader in Surrey, British Columbia, which was committed on June 18 by two as-yet unknown persons in the parking lot in front of the local Sikh temple. Representatives of the Sikh community, consisting mostly of immigrants from India, had already pointed the finger at India’s Foreign Intelligence Service (Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW), but at the time of the murder the Canadian authorities gave no hint that they suspected any such connection. It may well be that the relevant Canadian services were simply not in possession of any information on this issue, and were only later tipped off by the USA.
But it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Ottawa, which has in recent year been developing friendly relations with India, was simply unwilling to throw a spanner (and a substantial one at that) in the works. For Washington, India is of particular importance in its ongoing struggle with Beijing, its main opponent in the current stage of the Great World Game. Despite this, the US did not find it necessary to inform India about the information which it had passed on to Canada concerning the killing.
Moreover, one key element of US strategy is a black-and-white propaganda division of the world into three parts: a “light side” (or the community of democracies), a “dark side” (or the totalitarian states), and a “twilight zone” (or the countries making up what is increasingly being referred to as the Global South). India’s importance for the US, i.e. the leader of the “light,” or democratic camp, is due not only to the fact that it is fast becoming one of the leading world powers, but also to the fact that to a certain extent it is still seen as being part of the Global South. In fact, it is one of the leading countries in that category. Meanwhile, the struggle for influence in the Global South is gradually taking center stage in the arena where the Great World Game is being played out.
And, for all participants, it is important that the “light side” really is transparent. This particularly applies to the state structure, which, in the case of India, is defined by the now well-worn phrase,
“the world’s largest democracy.” And democracies, as we know, are expected, on their international relations, to comply with certain (rather mysterious) “rules.” For example, the democracies should at the least, stand for the struggle against international terrorism and in any event not provide any grounds for the suspicion that they themselves use terrorist tactics to address certain internal or external problems.
Here it should be noted that the very term “terrorism” (ludicrously, given its simple and literal meaning) has now become a key term in modern political Newspeak. Since the end of the 1990s it has been widely used (by the leaders of those same democracies) in political disputes with their opponents. As for the weight which this blunt term carries, it is up there with another political crime, the “abuse of universally accepted human rights.” Recently, however, this terminology has been enriched by other equally colorful insults, including memes such as “egregious emitter of greenhouse gases” or “opponent of below-the-belt values.”
And at the present time, when public debate is dominated not by meanings but by simulacra, it is especially important to avoid suspicion of involvement in anything directly or indirectly related to the sinister offence of terrorism. And suspicions about the involvement of the world’s largest democracy in such activities were inevitably raised after the incident that occurred on June 18 in Canada. For reasons which we have discussed more than once in NEO when another, similar incident occurred in India itself (specifically, in the northern part of the state of Punjab) many took the opportunity to speculate on the extremely complex political makeup of this country.
Here the author limit himself by reminding readers that the Sikhs were a source of more or less constant headache for the authorities in British India, and have continued to be in the modern independent Republic of India. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi became a victim of the “Sikh issue” in October 1994. Seven years after her assassination, her son Rajiv, also serving as Prime Minister, suffered a similar fate, but this time it was the “Tamil issue” that was to blame. And modern India has a whole cartload of problems of this type.
It appears that those problems were one of the reasons for the negative reaction by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when, on the sidelines of the G20 summit held in India at the beginning of September, his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau made overtures in the hope of somehow resolving the sudden deterioration of relations between the two countries.
It can also be assumed that, by the beginning of this high-profile but not particularly important event, the Canadian security services had uncovered specific information about the incident in Surrey. And that placed the country’s government with the dilemma of what to do with that knowledge. It is entirely possible that some time around September 10 Justin Trudeau and Narendra Modi had a discussion behind the scenes, on the following lines. “Esteemed Prime Minister, we have a problem. We have a great respect for you and your country, but what should I do with this “Sikh dossier”? Could you help me find a way out of this … pit?” The answer, it appears, went something like – in the words of a once popular song – “Colleague, leave me alone… I have enough problems of my own as it is. Don’t come bothering me with allegations about international terrorism.”
And only after that conversation, very much as a last resort, there was a leak of information from Ottawa about the incident in Surrey. And then there followed a series of ritual expressions of mutual displeasure by both India and Canada. But these are unlikely to have any lasting effect.
To conclude, a few remarks on all the above may be in order. Firstly, even if does turn out that the Indian RAW was indeed behind the murder in Surrey (which the present author does not believe), then generally speaking this would still be nothing more than a relatively minor and ordinary example of a breach of the rules of conduct referred to above. Rules which are ignored by their authors, who represent the “light side,” mentioned above, as often as possible and on a huge scale.
In order to somehow justify those violations, it should be noted that we live in a cruel reality in which artificially created rules (generally invented on the fly and theoretical in nature) inevitably break down in practice.
Secondly, the behavior of Canada’s main allies in relation to this unpleasant situation is rather remarkable. As far as we can tell, before making public its suspicions of India’s involvement in the incident that occurred in Surrey, Ottawa had sought its’ allies support for this step.
But in Washington, that is, in the capital of its main ally, the Canadian government suffered a setback. Which is not at all surprising, given the policy of “comprehensive courtship” of New Delhi which all the US administrations in recent years have followed.
London was non-committal, and only Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong (who is, incidentally, of Chinese descent) more or less openly voiced “deep concern” about the possible involvement of the Indian intelligence services in the incident in question. However, this stance did not prevent Penny Wong from taking part in the most recent ministerial meeting of the QUAD grouping (which includes India as well as Australia), where she was photographed standing shoulder to shoulder with her Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. On either side of them stood two other representatives of the “light side.”
And thirdly, this whole incident has, inevitably, had an impact on India’s troubled relations with its main opponents in the region, China and Pakistan. In particular, in recent years, New Delhi and Islamabad have regularly hurled propaganda epithets at one other, accusing each other of being “sponsors of terrorism” in connection with the situation in Balochistan or in the divided border region of divided Kashmir. Pakistan did not neglect the opportunity to criticize India provided by the incident in Canada.
It is worth noting, however, that the Sikh nationalists also have their eyes on part of the Pakistani Punjab as well. One significant reason for this, discussed by NEO in a previous article, relates to the construction of the so-called Kartarpur Corridor in the border area between Pakistan’s Punjab Province and India’s Punjab State.
Even as this article was being written, there were reports
of another killing of a Sikh activist in Canada. First indications are that the shooting was the result of an exchange of fire between rival gangs.
In conclusion, we can remember Pushkin’s words: “O how many strange revelations…” the current participants in the Great World Game have in store for us.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.