Radical Khalis Sentiments-Hurting the Indo-Canadian Zeal

Recently the referendum, which has taken place in Brampton, Canada, over the demand of Khalistan as a separate country from India, has intensified the flames of mutual distrust between the relations of the two counties. Over a lakh Sikhs could be seen participating in the voting, followed by the protests and vandalizing a Hindu Temple, in which anti-India slogans were being raised. This so-called referendum was organised by the well-known pro-Khalistan group Sikhs for Justice (SfJ).

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of India took no time to respond and raise its objection over the happenings and, in its weekly media briefing, stated, “The extremist and Radical elements held a ridiculous exercise. The matter has been taken with Canadian authorities through diplomatic channels.” Following this, a travel advisory was issued for students and Indian nationals travelling to Canada “to exercise due caution and remain vigilant.” Now, this hyped the issue as, in return to this advisory, Canada issued an advisory for its citizens not to travel to areas nearby the Indo-Pak border, especially the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, and Gujarat.

Withering Bilateral Relationship?

It’s not new to see something similar between the two countries. This ongoing process of mutual distrust has continued for a long time. The main issue behind all these tensions remains the same: the Khalistan movement and the extremist activities planned and performed by radical and extremist elements. Khalistan has always been a security concern from an Indian perspective, as it has time and again questioned India’s internal security by influencing public sentiments, especially of those who largely align themselves with the thought of a separate Sikh state, be it in India or the Indian diaspora in Canada or any part of the world.

It seems like the diplomatic relations have deteriorated more since Justin Trudeau assumed office. During the farmer’s protests of 2020-21 in New Delhi, Trudeau supported the Indian farmers as the protests intensified. Again, it created a hostile situation between the two sides as the MEA went on to summon the Canadian high commissioner, lodging a solemn protest over Trudeau’s remarks, quoting it as – ill-informed and unwarranted, advising him not to interfere in internal matters. Other than that, EAM Jaishankar refused to attend the Covid-19 foreign ministers grouping, headed by Canada the same year. During his last state visit to India, PM Trudeau allegedly got Jaspal Atwal, a Khalistan militant, along with his official delegate. This was certainly not welcomed by the Indian side, as Atwal was a convict in an attempt to assassinate Punjab Minister Malkiat Sidhu in 1986.

A Chronology of the Khalistan Issue

Khalistan, in literal meaning, is the pure land. But in Sikh political ideology, it’s the land of Khalsa that is the Sikh homeland. The Khalistan movement, as what it seems, indeed, came into existence after Operation Blue Star, but the story began in 1929 when Motilal Nehru presented ‘Poorna Swaraj’ at the Lahore session of INC. There were three people, who opposed it, Mohammed Ali Jinnah – for Muslims, Dr. B R Ambedkar – for Dalits, and Master Tara Singh of Akali Dal- for Sikhs. And this was the first demand for the Sikh homeland, which gradually became popular and gained support at the grass-root level in Punjab, which in turn, proved to be the base for the beginning of the Punjabi Suba Movement. This movement demanded a separate Sikh state within India on linguistic grounds. It continued over for 19 odd years. Following this, Punjab got trifurcated into three states; Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, with Chandigarh as the shared capital of Punjab and Haryana.

This movement turned violent and became a radical one with the rise of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. Some called him ‘Sant,’ some militant. But it’s a matter of fact, that he railed in an armed struggle against the Indira Gandhi government for a separate Sikh nation, culminating with Operation Blue Star. This operation not only ended the armed struggle but also left a dark imprint of hatred amongst many Sikhs towards their own government. This was followed by the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her security personnel, who were Sikh. Due to this, almost 3000 Sikhs got killed in the anti-Sikh violence of 1984.

Khalistan Agenda: A Political Tool for separatism

The recent trends and the political discourse so far show that ‘Khalistan’ is being used as a political tool by people in power like Trudeau, as part of their agenda of identity politics to increase the vote share by gaining the support of Canadian Sikhs. According to the figures released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada(IRCC), Canada is home to over 19 lakhs Indians which amounts to almost 5.1% of the total population of Canada, in which 8 lakh are Sikhs, constituting about 2.1% of the total population of Canada, along with over 2 lakh Gujaratis, constituting approximately 0.6% of the total population.

Trudeau’s last state visit to India was dubbed an absolute political disaster by many speculators, as the Indian side did not give him much attention. But looking at the same state visit from a different perspective, the grass seems greener on Trudeau’s side. It is because he landed at the Palam Air Base along with his wife and three kids, through which he depicted himself as a family man. Then during his week-long stay in India, he went on to visit the Harmandir Sahib, Amritsar, to target the Sikh population of Canada. Besides that, he visited the heritage city of Ahmedabad, to target the Gujarati population of Canada, along with visiting Mumbai, where he met a lot of celebrities from Bollywood, and Bollywood has the utmost influence on Indians as a whole. PM Trudeau has so far been successful in gaining the support of a large chunk of Canadian Sikhs, and to preserve this support, Canadian authorities tend to refuse to take any actions against radical separatist elements and advocate them by saying it’s their right to protest peacefully.


It’s crystal clear from the current geopolitical situation that the Khalistan movement is worsening the bilateral relationship between both countries, because Khalistan and the extremist activities associated with it have always been a concern over internal security for India, and matters related to internal security do reflect on foreign policy. At the same time, it is being used as a political tool to score some brownie points amongst a sect of the population by defaming the very status of the Republic of India. Canada has the upper hand, attracting thousands of Indian students to pursue higher education, which the Indian side can never ignore. If India wants to nullify the effect of separatist influence over Canadian Sikhs, it must be done in a way that tends to heal the deep scars of the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, which could help the Sikhs to move on from the bitter memories of that bloodshed, by making policies which favor Sikh population in India and abroad.

Sudhanshu Ojha
Sudhanshu Ojha
Mr Sudhanshu Ojha is a Post Graduate scholar at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Pondicherry University, Pudhucherry, India.