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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 40 September 30, 2023

Will Modi fight the next general elections over the threat of Khalistan? I Faraz Ahmad

Saturday 30 September 2023, by Faraz Ahmad


Will Khalistan be the next campaign issue of Modi as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prepares to go to elections for the 18th Lok Sabha, 2024, or even earlier? Remember, Modi won the 2019 elections to the 17th Lok Sabha with even higher numbers than his first triumph of 2014 on the hype created by the killing of 40 CRPF personnel travelling from Jammu to Srinagar by road. Republic TV head, an unabashed Modi bhakt, was jumping from his anchor stool not out of anguish for the sad and untimely death of so many of our jawans but at the Godsend to Modi to politically encash upon it in the forthcoming general elections and he proved right. Modi launched what retaliatory aerial bombing on Balakote in North West Pakistan and successfully projected himself as a muscular leader ready to teach Pakistan a befitting lesson.

Soon after the three-day G20 jamboree held September 8-10, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the killing of Surrey, British Columbia Gurdwara president Hardeep Singh Nijjar, also described by the National Investigations Agency (NIA) as the chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), by two unidentified gunmen alleged to be Indian agents, the temperature over the Khalistan issue, long dead and buried, has been rekindled by the Indian government now.

Trudeau gathered lip support from the ‘Five Eyes’ comprising the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, over what he told the Canadian Parliament of India interfering in Canada’s internal affairs, threatening Canada’s sovereignty and integrity by killing a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. Immediately the governments of the USA, UK and Australia reacted strongly to the allegations and they also supported Trudeau’s allegation stating that the Canadian premier’ statement in his Parliament was based on certain intelligence shared by them. Naturally, that was aimed at putting pressure on Modi not to brush aside these allegations lightly.

But Modi has gone much further within hours, not even days of Trudeau’s speech in his Parliament. First another Sikh India has virtually downgraded all diplomatic and other related activities in Canada, sending shock waves among Punjabis, specially Sikhs who have close relatives in Canada. Canada has the second largest Sikh population after India and Sikhs play a crucial role in Canadian politics and government with seven MPs in Canadian government as also ministers in the government, apart from high-ranking government officials. Most of them are now Canadian citizens and with close relatives like parents or brothers, sisters, tending their farm lands need to frequently travel to Punjab and back. To facilitate this there are now a couple of direct flights between Amritsar and Toronto. Within days of Trudeau’s statement, another Sikh named Sukhdool Singh Gill was gunned down again by ‘unidentified’ gunmen in Winnipeg Canada, as if India was thumbing its nose. A day before Gill killing the NIA released a list of 43 persons allegedly associated with terror activities. Gill was mentioned in this list. Later Indian security agencies said that his killing was an out come of gang rivalry and that, rival Punjab gangsters, Bishnoi and Jaggu Bhagwanpuria, had claimed responsibility for Gill killing in their separate Facebook posts.

Naturally then as Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal took this up with Union Home Minister Amit Shah, there is near panic among Punjabis, more Sikhs but others as well. BJP does not have much of a political influence in Punjab. If and when it has won any parliamentary constituencies it always rode piggyback either Akali Dal or Bollywood stars like Vinod Khanna. Last time when they had no candidate for their Gurdaspur seat, they persuaded Hema Malini to get her stepson film star Sunny Deol, with hardly any political interest, to contest. BJP won that seat. But it cannot win any seat in Punjab without a good section of Sikhs also supporting its candidate. Therefore if the Sikhs feel angry over Modi raising the Khalistan ‘bogey’ and do not vote for the BJP, it won’t matter much to Modi since he would start with the premise that all is lost in Punjab anyway.

However going by how Modi encashed Pulwama-Balakote in the elections to the present 17th Lok Sabha, Khalistan appears a potent issue which the ruling party may fully encash, putting the INDIA block on the backfoot. Already Congress has fully supported the Government on this issue and once Modi goes to town on the threat from Khalistan, will be left with no foot to stand on regarding the threat to India’s security. It happened in Kargil in 1998-99, then in 2019 on Pulwama. It seems likely to be tried once more as the threat of Khalistan. At the moment Modi is playing on the backfoot. He has lost all major allies, last but not the least being AIADMK in Tamil Nadu. It is inconceivable for the BJP to open an account for the Lok Sabha without a strong ally in Tamil Nadu. All reports coming in from the four states going to polls later this year namely Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, and Rajasthan indicate a bleak prospect for the BJP there. If that trend continues INDIA alliance could push Modi in a very tight corner, provided of course the alliance remains intact. Khalistan alone can reverberate not just in states adjoining Punjab, like Jammu, Himachal and Haryana, but probably the rest of North India as well.

On the other hand, an added advantage on raising the Khalistan issue is that Canada is too far away. Whereas there was some fear of escalation of war between India and Pakistan over the Pulwama-Balakote matter, Canada is too far away. Besides, all four members of the Five Eyes, have significant trade and defence ties with India and consider a buffer state against China. They would not allow Canada to do anything beyond verbal assaults on India, which Trudeau may continue with, to consolidate his Sikh constituency, since next year his Liberal Party too is going for national elections and Sikh votes are important for any winning combination in Canada.

There is striking similarity between the killings of Nijjar and Gill in Canada which has a very low crime rate in the normal course. Both Nijjar and Sukha were on the NIA list as Khalistani terrorists. Both were politically active raising issues concerning Sikhs. Both were gunned down by “unidentified” gunmen. Will this fan the fires further or will the Canadian government now reduce temperature on killing of Sikh citizens on Canadian soil.

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