Press Trust of india

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, let the truth come out: says Vikas Swarup on Canada’s allegations against India

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Toronto:  Criticising Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his reckless actions in a deepening diplomatic row with India over the killing of a Sikh separatist, Vikas Swarup, a former Indian envoy to the country asked Ottawa to take steps to deescalate the dispute and allow the truth to come out in public.

Swarup, who served as India’s high commissioner to Canada from 2017 to 2019, also repeated the Indian government’s accusations that Ottawa has been too accommodating with violent Sikh separatists, something he said Canada will regret.

He also reminded the Canadian government that “everyone is innocent until proven guilty” and to allow “the rule of law to take its course.”

Tensions flared between India and Canada early this week following Prime Minister Trudeau’s explosive allegations of the “potential” involvement of Indian agents in the killing of Khalistani extremist Nijjar on his country’s soil on June 18 in British Columbia.

India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020.

India angrily rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in a tit-for-tat move to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the case.

Swarup called Prime Minister Trudeau reckless for levelling accusations that New Delhi was involved in the assassination of Nijjar, the Calgary Herald newspaper reported.

“I have no idea why the Canadian government did what they did,” Swarup told the Global Business Forum at the Fairmont Banff Springs Conference Centre.

Banff is a resort town in the Canadian province of Alberta.

“I reject the allegations that have been made. Let the truth come out in a public environment,” he said.

“So I would say Canada, please take a step back. Reflect carefully. There was no need for us to go public focus. This could easily have been solved at the diplomatic level by continuously engaging engagement between the two governments, but the bomb has exploded. We have to pick up the pieces and move on,” he said.

His comments came as news reports emerged Thursday that the Canadian government bases its allegations against India on both human sources and surveillance, some of it coming from its allies.

Swarup, who has also served as the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, said he had long been privy to the Indian government’s efforts in advising Canada about what he called the threat of Sikhs in Canada pushing for a state separate from India called Khalistan.

“We had been giving dossier after dossier to Canada about the increasing activity about the pro-Khalistanians,” said Swarup, who’s also the author of the book adapted for the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

“I think Canada should look at the larger picture,” he said. “You don’t want to import the passions of the subcontinent into your own body politic because eventually they will infect you and you will be the loser.”

Swarup said he has no problem with those peacefully advocating for a separate Sikh state.

But he said it’s Canada’s responsibility to draw the line when it crosses into terrorism.

“My problem is when that movement turns towards incitement to violence, which that is trying to go to a civil colostomy lab,” Western Standard, a Canadian conservative social commentary media website, quoted him as saying at the event.

On Thursday, India asked Canada to come down hard on terrorists and anti-India elements operating from its soil and suspended visa services for Canadians, as escalating tensions between the two nations over the killing of Nijjar pushed their ties to an all-time low.

India also asked Canada to downsize its diplomatic staff in the country, arguing that there should be parity in strength and rank equivalence in the mutual diplomatic presence. The size of Canadian diplomatic staff in India is larger than what New Delhi has in Canada.

Swarup said India should reverse its move to suspend visa services in Canada and try not to harm businesses during the feud.

But Canada, he said, has also damaged crucial trading relationships with two huge global players, given Ottawa’s fallout in recent years with Beijing that has involved Canadian hostages.

“Canada cannot blow up its relationships with both India and China at the same time,” said Swarup, adding both countries now need to make the best of a bad-blood situation.

The row (between India and Canada) has thrown sharp uncertainty over the countries’ trade ties, said Victor Thomas, a business leader who courts investment from India and president of the Canada-India Business Council.

“The sovereignty of a nation is of utmost importance but this changes a lot of things,” said Thomas, whose council represents 43 businesses and post-secondary education institutions.

While Canadian exports to India last year were 5.3 billion dollars- or 0.7 per cent of its global total – the country imported 8.3 billion dollars worth of goods from the South Asian nation, or about 1.1 per cent of total imports.

Canadian producers have annually exported about 400 million dollars worth of lentils to India over the past four years.

Another huge component in that relationship is the presence of 230,000 Indian students in Canada who pump at least 8 billion dollars into the economy annually.

The unfilled trading potential between Canada and India, said Thomas, adding businesses on both sides will now need to redouble their efforts to realise that.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith expressed alarm over the spat.

“(If) India ever decides to talk to us again . . . we have huge opportunities to keep feeding the world,” said Smith, noting Canada’s exports of lentils.

Both Thomas and Swarup said they’re cautiously optimistic the long-standing business relationships between the two countries will weather the current storm.

“It’s important for Canada to diversify its markets and there cannot be a better partner for Canada in Asia than India,” said Swarup.

Meanwhile, British Columbia (BC) Premier David Eby said he “strongly” suspects the federal government is holding back information that could help the province protect its residents from foreign interference.

Nijjar, who was the chief of Khalistan Tiger Force, was a resident of Surrey in British Columbia.

Eby said people in BC have been “feeling pressure from India,” and he believes Ottawa has information through agencies including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) that could help respond to foreign interference.

The premier says everything he knows about Nijjar’s killing is “in the public realm,” despite a briefing with the CSIS director that he described as frustrating because there wasn’t more concrete information.

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