The expelled Canadian diplomat was not named in an Indian government statement but was described by the Hindustan Times as the Canadian intelligence station chief in New Delhi.
The Indian government issued a statement Tuesday rejecting Trudeau’s allegations as “absurd and motivated.” India’s Foreign Ministry went on to say Trudeau’s allegations “seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The inaction of the Canadian Government on this matter has been a long-standing and continuing concern.”
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was designated a terrorist by Indian security agencies in 2020 and accused of planning attacks inside India’s Punjab state, which is home to about 16 million Sikhs.
The Khalistan movement he was part of seeks to form a breakaway state in the Punjab region called Khalistan and has supporters both within India and among the large global Sikh diaspora. Thousands died during a violent separatist insurgency in the Punjab in the 1980s and 1990s.
Months before Nijjar was shot by masked gunmen in the parking lot of a Sikh temple outside Vancouver on June 18, India ratcheted up a campaign to pressure countries including Canada, Australia, Britain and the United States, home to significant Sikh communities and frequent pro-Khalistan protests, to crack down on the movement.
Earlier this year in London and San Francisco, protesters stormed the grounds of Indian diplomatic missions to raise their movement’s flag, angering the New Delhi government. Indian officials say pro-Khalistan supporters have also targeted Indian diplomats posted overseas.
Trudeau on Monday did not give specific evidence linking Indian operatives to the shooting but said Canada was looking into the killing with allied nations. The controversy comes at an awkward moment when Western nations, led by the Biden White House, are looking to woo India as a geopolitical and trade partner and refrained from criticizing Modi over India’s authoritarian backsliding.
Trudeau said he had recently expressed “deep concerns” to Indian security and intelligence officials about the killing and also conveyed them “personally and directly” and “in no uncertain terms” to Modi while in India for the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi this month.
The visit turned out to be fraught, with Modi’s office announcing on Sept. 10 that the two leaders had discussed the Khalistan issue and Modi conveying “India’s strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada.” Trudeau stayed a day longer than planned in New Delhi, which the Canadian embassy attributed to a technical problem with his airplane.
The Liberal Party leader’ allegation was particularly stunning because speculation had circulated for months among pro-Khalistan sympathizers — as well as Indian nationalists — that Nijjar’s shooting may have been linked to two other deaths that occurred within 45 days.
In May, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, also an Indian-designated terrorist, was shot dead by masked gunmen in Lahore, Pakistan. And days before Nijjar’s shooting, Avtar Singh Khanda, a British-based pro-Khalistan leader who raised the movement’s flag above the Indian embassy in London during the assault, died in a hospital in Birmingham. (British police said they were not investigating Khanda’s death.)
The Indian government did not comment at the time of the deaths, but theories of a state connection became television fodder, with several popular nationalist channels and pro-government analysts obliquely praising India’s hard-nosed approach to Sikh separatism and its arrival to the top echelon of the world’s covert operators.
One of the channels, Zee News, asked if Nijjar’s death “will blow away even Israel’s mind.” Another, Times Now, wondered if India’s Research and Analysis Wing, the external intelligence service, had become “the new Mossad.”