Framework for cooperation between India and Canada on terrorism remains silent over Hindutva extremism

Written by Gurpreet Singh | Published on: February 26, 2018
If the joint statement on cooperation between India and Canada on terrorism and violent extremism is any indication, it is the pro-India Hindutva lobby and not the Khalistanis who enjoy any influence over Canadian politics.

India Canada
 
The statement is not only silent on the growth of Hindutva extremism, it squarely blames the Islamic and Sikh militant groups for violence and terror. In other words the joint statement mimics the narrative of the Indian state on terrorism and there is hardly any acknowledgement of the threat Hindutva forces pose to peace and diversity. 
 
The statement is based on an understanding between the law enforcement and security agencies of both countries that “resolved to step up their bilateral cooperation under the supervision of the National Security Advisor’s Dialogue, the Joint Working Group on Counter-terrorism and its Experts' Sub-Group”.  
 
However, as one proceeds further it only establishes this as one sided policy document that perceives this threat coming from the minority terror organizations alone, and not a single reference is made to the Hindu terror groups involved in large scale violence against minorities and political critics in India under the Modi government.
 
The statement goes on to name these groups specifically. “They (law and enforcement and security agencies) are committed to work together to neutralize the threats emanating from terrorist groups such as Al Qaida, ISIS, the Haqqani Network, LeT, JeM, Babbar Khalsa International, and the International Sikh Youth Federation”.
 
From the announcement one can conclude that it benefits India more than Canada considering the bad press Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau got as soon as he started his weeklong visit to Indian accusing him of being soft on the Sikh separatists in Canada.
 
After all, the conspiracy of the Air India bombing that left 329 people dead on June 23, 1985 was hatched on the Canadian soil. The crime was blamed on the Babbar Khalsa which is a banned Sikh terror group in Canada. The security agencies continue to claim that this was done in retaliation to the repression of Sikhs in India in 1984. The armed insurgency for separate Sikh homeland had a big support in Canada. Although the movement is long dead in Punjab, the Indian politicians have tried to keep its fear alive to polarize Hindu majority votes. They still believe that Khalistanis have a complete influence over political parties in Canada. Though Khalistan supporters have a strong presence in many South Asian ridings, their activities are mostly confined to propaganda in the absence of any popular support in Punjab, where people have moved on.   
 
Under an intense attack coming from the Indian leadership and media, Trudeau was forced to say that he supports “United India” – a slogan that remains popular with the mainstream Indian political parties, including the ruling Hindu right wing Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) that aspires to transform India into Hindu theocracy. The ideology of Hindutva based on the belief that India belongs to the Hindu majority where minorities should not enjoy special treatment is at the heart of the political philosophy of the BJP. For the record, it is important to clarify that Hindutva is different from Hinduism and the two terms should never be confused. It is more like a political brand of Hindu identity being practiced by the BJP and its apologists.  
It is pertinent to mention that ever since the BJP government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with brute majority in 2014, the Hindu right wing groups have intensified violent activities. Not only are minority communities like Muslims and Christians potential targets, political critics of the BJP and its policies in the Hindu community, are also threatened, intimidated and sometimes killed.  
 
Some of these groups have also been involved in bomb blasts targeting Muslim localities and their places of worship. One such group was complicit in the bombing of Samjhauta rail that connects India and Pakistan on February 18, 2007. That attack had left 68 people dead, mostly Pakistani Muslims. There are indications that the BJP government is using its influence to save the conspirators and shift the blame on Islamic extremists. Incidentally, Trudeau was in India on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy that was completely forgotten and overlooked even by the Indian media that was more obsessed with the issue of Khalistan and its relationship with Canada.
 
Notably, the world renowned leader of the passive resistance movement Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by the Hindu extremists in 1948. Gandhi was killed for standing up against violence against Muslims during the Indo Pak partition in 1947. That was a first high profile act of terrorism in the post British India by the Hindu extremists. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) – an ultra-Hindu nationalist organization, of which the BJP is a political wing, was briefly banned after the assassination. The assassin of Gandhi belonged to this group. Although RSS denies its involvement in the murder, some BJP leaders have created controversies by attacking Gandhi and glorifying his assassin, Nathuram Godse, as “a patriot”. It is pertinent to mention that Modi is an RSS member. 
The Hindutva groups that are involved in bombings owe allegiance to the ideology of Godse. 
 
Ironically, Trudeau visited the spiritual center of Gandhi in Gujarat and yet, he never stated anything in relation to the growing extremism and violence in India by those who see Godse, and not Gandhi, as their hero. This is despite the fact that Canada claims to be a human rights leader in the world.
On the contrary, Narendra Modi strongly condemned the separatist forces (read Sikh extremists) active in Canada. He categorically stated that their designs to disintegrate India will not be tolerated. Likewise, when Trudeau met Punjab Chief Minister Amrinder Singh, who has been openly accusing Trudeau government of patronizing Khalistanis, he couldn't raise any concern over human rights abuse and state violence in Punjab. It was Amrinder Singh who controlled the conversation in which he also gave Trudeau a list of nine Canadians who the Punjab government claims are conspiring to disturb peace in his state. Trudeau missed an opportunity to counter him about the recent arrest and torture of a Sikh activist Jagtar Johal from U.K. Johal has been campaigning for justice for the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre engineered by Amrinder Singh's Congress Party. The Canadian Sikh MPs had made statements in support of Johal, who many believe is being framed by the Punjabi police for series of isolated political killings in the recent months. 
 
The Modi government in particular and the Indian government in general, have always been critical of Islamic and Sikh extremists and blamed them for threatening the peace and unity. But we rarely hear them saying anything like that in terms of Hindutva terror. The list of the banned terror groups of National Investigation Agency (NIA) in India too does not include a single Hindutva organization even though the NIA has been investigating some of the crimes committed by them. 
 
Trudeau, therefore, has failed to achieve anything when it comes to challenging the threat of Hindutva extremism which has sympathizers even in Canada and US and has done everything that suits the Indian interests for the sake of free trade relations. Respecting India’s sovereignty and trade relations is one thing, but to completely turn a blind eye to what is happening in that part of the world for pragmatic reasons is a bad leadership. By doing so, Trudeau has given a cold shoulder to those in Canada who have been writing letters to him through their MPs to raise the issue of growing attacks on minorities in that country. Apparently, in today’s world, it’s the majoritarianism that works which only weakens the case for a real and inclusive model of democracy. Hope someone listens.