‘India has not blinked’

‘The world is watching carefully. The choices India makes today have consequences beyond its borders.’

Canada has withdrawn 41 diplomats from India amid a dispute over the murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Thursday, October 19, 2023, adding that Ottawa would not take retaliatory steps, Reuters reported.

“Canadian diplomats have been asked to leave, and some have left. I do not regard that step by India as escalatory because India had already announced that decision soon after the crisis broke,” Ambassador Jitendra Nath Misra, India’s former envoy to Portugal, tells‘s Archana Masih.

Currently Professor of Diplomatic Practice at the O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat and Distinguished Fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Dhaka, Ambassador Mishra adds, “Canada is not the existential problem for India that China and Pakistan are.”

  • Part 1 of the Interview: ‘It appears Canada has realised it has made a mistake’

You said that India has greater international influence today than it had 30 years ago.
What does India’s response to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegations indicate about India’s enhanced power?

If this happened 30-40 years ago, the world would might have responded differently, but today, India counts for more.

India is shifting from a balancing to a leading role. It is a consequential power not just in the region, or in the wider region, but globally.

We are seeing an example of that in the fallout of the Trudeau allegations because it is having an impact not just on bilateral ties with Canada, but the US, and perhaps also the UK and Australia.

The world is watching carefully. The choices India makes today have consequences beyond its borders.

Does Canada lose more because of this breakdown of relations than India does because of India’s strategic importance and rising international stature?

That is a question to which I do not have a good answer. India’s international stature is rising and that might be the reason why the Americans have not been very active in commenting publicly after the initial statements.

I can speculate that they might have also urged Trudeau to climb down one or two notches, which he appears to have done.

Structurally, Canada is part of the Five Eyes. The US Ambassador to Canada David Cohen has claimed that Trudeau’s allegations are based on information provided under the Five Eyes framework and there is speculation that the US gave Canada the information.

These statements have to be taken seriously, yet they are still allegations which have not been proven.

It also shows that Canada has powerful friends and is not working alone. There has been a degree of public pressure on India by the United States.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has said there are no exceptions while responding to allegations in the media that the US was going soft on India, because of China.

However, there is no grand coalition of the Anglosphere against India.

Power brings responsibility and India has to take a lot more on its chin in the real world and must not react to every perceived slight. Therefore, I am afraid the Indian media has gone ballistic with shocking claims about Trudeau’s personality and his behaviour. These statements are not helpful because our problem goes far back.

Why have Canadian politicians not taken India’s concerns about the Khalistani threat seriously?

It was not something started by Trudeau, other Canadian politicians are guilty too.

They have brushed aside India’s claims of terrorism emanating from Canadian soil and attacks on the representations and properties of the Indian government.

Trudeau’s political opportunism and missteps are part of a larger structural problem. He is not the first Canadian politician to put votes before principles, but he has gone further down that path in an escalatory spiral than any of his predecessors, and that has led to a crisis in ties to India.

As India becomes more powerful and more consequential in the world, what reset does the Anglosphere need in its understanding of India particularly?

India is not evangelical or ideological about human rights. The Anglosphere is opportunistic because they have weaponised human rights for strategic purposes making interventions in India’s domestic affairs.

There has been a duality in American State behaviour as far as regime changes abroad are concerned.

They cozy up to dictators when it suits their purposes, and destabilise democratic regimes in the process. They support democrats when it suits them.

When their interests are threatened and they need friendly regimes, they will sup with dictators and military regimes as in the case of Pakistan.

All these claims about human rights seem hollow. The UK historically has the lead on this, as far as India is concerned. But it is a general problem in the West. Only, US activism on this is more damaging because the US is the most consequential among these powers.

The West has a rather insular view of the world, whereas the world looks very different from India’s point of view.

An example of the duality of the American approach towards India was evident when USS John Paul Jones entered India’s Exclusive Economic Zone without prior consent in 2021, near Lakshadweep.

The US Seventh Fleet went public on this. It was like thumbing their nose at India.

The US does similar operations in the South China Sea, because of China’s exaggerated and highly untenable territorial claims, but they also do it to India!

All politics is local. Indian opinion turned against the US. The Anglosphere has a strong partnership with India and they should be prudent and careful.

US interventions in the Indian Ocean undermining Indian interests are something India could do without with China aggressively poised along the contested Line of Actual Control.

There has been incomplete disengagement and no de-escalation unfortunately.

Canada unveiled its Indo Pacific strategy last year and strategically Canada and India are on the same side as far as countering China is concerned.

Therefore, if Canada is offering a quiet dialogue, India should take that opportunity.

Canada is not the existential problem for India that China and Pakistan are. We should not be taking our eyes off the ball.

…because our biggest problems lie in our neighbourhood?

Exactly. India cannot be a great power as long as it has disputed borders, territorial vulnerabilities, and lacks state cohesion.

Until we overcome our internal and neighbourhood problems, we will have to deal with our contested neighbourhood as our primary theatre.

Problems with Canada should not serve as a distraction.

This crisis would have done some good if it makes Canada realise that it has been callous towards India’s concerns about Khalistan.

Khalistan is an imagined entity. It does not resonate in India. It only resonates with tiny sections of Sikhs in the Anglosphere — Canadian, British, American and Australian — and hardly elsewhere.

Why does it not resonate in Germany, or France, or Thailand, or Malaysia? There are Sikhs in Thailand and Malaysia.

There should be an honest and symmetrical discussion to address India’s concerns as much as Canada would like India to address its own concerns over the Nijjar killing.

How do you see things going forward?

Publicly at least Canada has climbed down, India has not blinked. Canadian diplomats have been asked to leave, and some have left, apparently. I do not regard that step by India as escalatory because India had already announced that decision soon after the crisis broke.

India, meanwhile, has not publicly climbed down. I suspect that there will be a deep and protracted conversation because of the structural problems of the relationship.

It is a hope and a possibility that we might see efforts to prevent further damage, and then to rebuild the relationship.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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