Recent comments by Canadian politicians surrounding farmers’ ongoing protests in India continue to make waves in New Delhi. On December 4, the Indian Foreign Ministry summoned the Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel, to India, he informed us that “the comments of the Prime Minister of Canada, other Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament on matters relating to Indian farmers is an unacceptable interference within our affairs,” the statement said.
The statement added: “Such actions, if continued, would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada.” This is the strongest reaction so far from the Indian government on the issue.
When the Indian Foreign Ministry earlier expressed dissatisfaction with Sajjan and Trudeau’s statements, Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, in an interview with the Hindu on December 2, had tried to take it lightly.
Interestingly, in that interview, Jaishankar said, “We have made a statement, which clearly states our position,” suggesting that the matter is closed in relation to the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is therefore unclear what brought about the reduction in funding to the Canadian High Commission two days later, especially as Trudeau has not yet spoken again.
Speaking on November 30 about the ongoing farmers’ protests – led by Sikh farmers in Punjab – during the birthday celebration of the founder of Sikhism – Trudeau said: “I would be remiss if I didn’t start by recognizing the news coming from India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning. We are all very worried about family and friends. I know that’s a reality for many of you. Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest.”
India suspects that Canada continues to participate in many anti-India Sikh forces, because of their history in the 1980s during the Sikh separatist movements. Many supporters of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) also want to protest the ongoing farmers’ protests as a cover for Sikh secessions and revive the demand for Khalistan, a term that Sikh separatists use to describe the independent state of their fellow believers.
The Indian foreign ministry statement backs BJP’s line (unofficial). It adds “comments [by Canadian political leaders] have encouraged gatherings of extremist activities in front of our High Commission and Consulates in Canada that raise issues of safety and security,” adding: “We expect the Canadian Government to ensure the fullest security of Indian diplomatic personnel and its political leaders to refrain from pronouncements that legitimize extremist activism.” It is unclear on what basis the Indian government has acted this way.
Since coming to power for the first time in 2014, and re-elected in 2019, the Narendra Modi government has been particularly sensitive to foreign criticism and still continues to force its way into the West for strategic and defense assistance.