India rejects Canada's allegations over killing of Sikh leader as 'absurd'
Strongly-worded statement accuses Canada of interfering in India’s internal affairs
India was quick to respond to Ottawa expelling an Indian diplomat amid allegations that New Delhi was involved in the killing of a Canadian Sikh leader on Canadian soil, responding in kind with an expulsion of their own.
Indian officials, calling the allegations "absurd" and "unsubstantiated," summoned Canada's High Commissioner to India to inform him that senior Canadian diplomat has been kicked out of India and given five days to leave the country. CBC News has confirmed reports in Indian media saying the Canadian diplomat facing expulsion is Olivier Sylvestre.
The tit-for-tat response, on the heels of Ottawa expelling Indian diplomat Pavan Kumar Rai, was accompanied by a strongly-worded statement accusing Canada of interfering in India's internal affairs.
In a separate statement, Narendra Modi's government said the allegations were politically motivated and repeated a long-standing criticism: that Canadian officials aren't concerned by the actions of "Khalistani terrorists and extremists, who have been provided shelter in Canada and continue to threaten India's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
Canada is home to the largest Sikh diaspora community.
Tensions between Canada and India have grown increasingly frosty in recent months, following the June shooting death of Sikh leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar and after several informal referendum votes held by the U.S.-based group Sikhs for Justice on whether a separate Sikh state called Khalistan should be formed.
Nijjar was a wanted man in India, designated as a terrorist in 2020.
"Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday in a speech to the House of Commons.
While the allegations may have brought about a rare moment of unity among Ottawa's political parties, with all leaders condemning the killing and calling for answers about the intelligence that national security advisors have deemed "credible," it did the same in India, but with the opposite view — that the allegations are motivated more by domestic political concerns.
India's main opposition Congress Party echoed the Modi government's stance, saying on X, formerly known as Twitter, that India's "fight against terrorism has to be uncompromising."
The allegations and deepening diplomatic row between India and Canada brought heightened security outside Canada's High Commission in New Delhi, with more police officers deployed to protect the building.
New Delhi-based geopolitical analyst Brahma Chellaney called Trudeau's allegations "astounding."
The professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research noted that this is the first time India has been accused of "carrying out an assassination on Western soil, even though India has been the victim of a host of major terrorist attacks, including one that originated in Canada."
"Canadian security agencies have yet to find evidence of any Indian involvement in the killing [of Nijjar]," said Chellaney, who is a former member of India's National Security Advisory Board.
The prime minister only spoke of "a potential link with India," Chellaney noted. "Why would [Trudeau] then make an allegation at this stage?"
Chellaney said the accusations have plunged the bilateral relationship between the two countries to an all-time low, and he doesn't see it getting better anytime soon.
"There has been bad blood between Trudeau and New Delhi for a long time."
Canada's statement was rushed, some say:
On the streets of Mumbai, quieter than usual as many observed the beginning of a holy festival honouring one of the Hindu gods Ganesh, some people said Canada rushed into making a statement without presenting more solid facts.
"The easiest thing for a person is to accuse somebody, the toughest part is to find a solution," said Mumbai resident Vanish Kapoor, 48, walking with his wife Ritu.
"I think Mr. Trudeau should have… investigated and if he could have proved that India is behind it, that is the time he should have issued a statement," Kapoor told CBC News.
"But he issued a statement just [out of] thin air."
Others also said they believed the tense relations between Canada and India will only get worse.
"[The allegations] will definitely create differences," said 26-year-old Jasmine Arya.
"There's a direct impact to it and I think these need to be more researched before going and saying such things on the public forum," she added.