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Business News/ News / India/  India Should Clear the Air on a Killing in Canada
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India Should Clear the Air on a Killing in Canada

The country’s reputation will suffer a grievous blow if it doesn’t cooperate in the investigation of a Sikh activist’s murder. 

India Should Clear the Air on a Killing in CanadaPremium
India Should Clear the Air on a Killing in Canada

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Indian leaders seem confident they can ride out the diplomatic furor after their government was accused of complicity in the assassination of a Sikh activist in Canada. Perhaps they’re right. But they should consider the potential costs of that decision nonetheless.

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canadian investigators were “pursuing credible allegations of a potential link" between Indian agents and the shooting of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, outside a temple in British Columbia last June. Trudeau said he had raised the issue directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and called on India to cooperate in the investigation, emphasizing that “any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty." Canada also expelled a senior diplomat, said to be India’s top intelligence official in the country.

The Indian foreign ministry has rejected the charges as “absurd and motivated." It repeated calls for Canada to crack down on figures such as Nijjar, whom India had designated a terrorist bent on promoting the so-called Khalistan movement, which during the 1980s and early 1990s violently sought to carve out an independent Sikh state in India’s Punjab region. Several other Sikh activists have died overseas under suspicious circumstances in recent months.

Led by the US, Western nations have been courting India as a bulwark against China. No doubt Indian leaders are betting those countries, which continue to work closely with Saudi Arabia despite the gruesome murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, are unlikely to do more than express “concern" over Trudeau’s claims.

The question is whether that’s the kind of relationship India should want with the West. Democratic backsliding under Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, and a tolerance for autocrats such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have fueled doubts in the US and Europe about how reliable a partner India will ever be. Even so, there’s a difference between being seen as a prickly ally and an untrustworthy power, willing to trample on the values of one’s supposed friends.

Western support for India’s rise has been driven at least as much by the perception that the two sides share those values, as well as interests. If, as with Saudi Arabia, the relationship were to become largely transactional, India would likely lose the most.

With a per capita GDP less than one-fifth of China’s, the country still desperately needs Western technology and investment to upgrade its economy and bolster its military. Its hopes of luring more Western manufacturing — already threatened by poor business conditions — may be further impeded if geopolitical frictions increase. Long-term investors might pause at the possibility the country could one day run afoul of Western sanctions. The Pentagon will be more reluctant to share sophisticated weaponry and intelligence. The potential for defense co-production agreements will be further constrained.

These don’t seem like risks worth running to reinforce the Modi government’s nationalist credentials, which are hardly in doubt. India should instead pledge to cooperate transparently in the Canadian investigation. Its complaints about Canada’s alleged tolerance for violent Sikh separatists should be handled diplomatically and in accordance with Canadian laws. For its part, Canada should aim to conclude the probe and present any evidence it has swiftly, rather than leaving a cloud hanging over India’s global reputation.   

Meanwhile, President Joe Biden should make clear to Modi that the relationship between their nations can’t help but suffer if India simply stonewalls the US’s neighbor and ally. The West should certainly treat India as a friend, but only if it acts like one.

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Published: 17 Apr 2024, 01:22 AM IST
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