India Canada Relations: Though New Delhi surprised everyone by easing some of the restrictions on Canadian visas, officials and experts predict that repairing the damaged diplomatic relations between India and Canada would take time, as both countries have taken maximalist stances.
Visa Services Halt
After halting visa services for several weeks due to Ottawa’s accusation that Indian operatives were perhaps responsible for the death of a Canadian Sikh separatist leader from Punjab state, India has now chosen to partially resume the services. Recriminations between the two nations, who have been close for than a century and have deep relations thanks to the Sikh diaspora, have reached an all-time low due to mutual accusations since that claim, which India vehemently disputes.
Hopes for Improved Relations
Furthermore, although some had hoped for better relations when India relaxed its visa requirements, officials and analysts in both nations emphasised that there is no reason for any side to rush the return to normalcy. As Canada’s murder investigation continues and Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets ready for the May national elections in India, it doesn’t appear that either New Delhi or Ottawa will make any significant moves towards reconciliation anytime soon.
India-Canada Relations at Their Worst, Says Michael Kugelman
According to Michael Kugelman, head of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre in Washington, “the relationship is in deep crisis, perhaps its worst ever.” “Each side may have a strong interest in the crisis not getting completely out of control, but that doesn’t mean there are strong incentives to resolve the crisis.” India’s ambassador to Canada from 2020 to 2022, Ajay Bisaria, stated that after “quiet diplomacy,” the relationship is in a “de-escalation phase.” The movement of tens of thousands of Indians and individuals of Indian heritage who live in Canada or intend to study there is anticipated to be impeded by the visa restrictions, even with the respite.
Indo-Pacific Ambitions at Stake
The enmity has threatened Group of Seven member Canada’s Indo-Pacific aspirations, where New Delhi is essential to efforts to check an increasingly assertive China, even though both governments have spared economic and trade relations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on September 18 that Canada was “actively pursuing credible allegations” that connected Indian government agents to the June murder of 45-year-old Hardeep Singh Nijjar in a Vancouver suburb. Nijjar had supported the fringe idea of carving out an independent Sikh homeland called Khalistan from India.
Expulsion of India’s Head of Intelligence
India’s head of intelligence was expelled by Canada in Ottawa. India swiftly retaliated, banning 13 types of Canadian visas and shutting Canada’s diplomatic mission there, which Ottawa claimed went against the Vienna Conventions. Then, on October 25, New Delhi said that it would start issuing visas again under four categories. According to Indian officials, this move will facilitate travel to India for those of Indian descent during the upcoming wedding season, which starts this month. “This is not a thaw,” a representative of the Indian foreign ministry told Reuters. “People can read whatever they want into it.” According to another official, Ottawa started the problem and needs to start resigning from its position.
Seeking a Return to Normalcy Amidst Uncertainty
The ultimate objective of Ottawa, according to a senior Canadian government source, was to get things back to normal, but uncertainty over the murder investigation and trial in the upcoming months, along with India’s elections, could cause problems. “This is a difficult moment, but Canada is not abandoning its Indo-Pacific strategy,” the source said. Speaking under oath, officials from Canada and India disclosed information about which they were not permitted to discuss. A request for comment was not answered by the Indian foreign ministry. The remarks made by Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie on October 30 were cited by Canada’s foreign ministry.
Canada’s Commitment to Strengthening Ties with India
“We have a long-term approach when it comes to India because this is a relationship that has spanned decades, and we all know that we have very strong people-to-people ties with the country,” Jolie said, adding she continued to talk to her Indian counterpart. The greatest Sikh population outside of Punjab is found in Canada, where 770,000 persons identified as Sikhs in the census taken in 2021. With 40% of study permit holders coming from India, the country is by far the biggest supplier of international students in Canada. India is also a major economic contributor to the country, bringing in over C$20 billion ($15 billion) a year to the country’s education sector.
The Persistent Issue of Sikh Separatism
Since the 1980s, concerns around Sikh separatism between India and Canada have plagued the relationship. It is improbable that Modi, the leader of a Hindu nationalist party with a strongman persona, will yield, especially not so soon before the elections. The majority of the retaliatory measures are still in place, according to Kugelman, “and there’s still a lot of anger on both sides,” despite the “modest de-escalation” over visas. Thus, we shouldn’t exaggerate this situation’s de-escalating potential. A “pause” was required, according to Michael Bociurkiw, a foreign policy expert at the Atlantic Council, “for cooler heads to prevail and to get the relationship back on track.” However, it won’t happen right away. It’ll need some time.