Modi-Trudeau icebreaker meet at G7 summit did not turn out as expected
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of the G7 summit, in Apulia, Italy. Photo: PTI

Modi-Trudeau 'icebreaker' meet at G7 summit did not turn out as expected

Canadian PM expressed optimism after he met Modi; in reality, it seems there has been no move by India or Canada to address each other's concerns

The meeting between Narendra Modi and Justin Trudeau did not quite turn out as the “icebreaker” that many expected it to be. Last week, the Indian and Canadian Prime Ministers had met on the sidelines of the G7 Outreach summit in Italy.

Trudeau said India and Canada have agreed to “work together” to deal with some “very important” issues. While India simply maintained that the two leaders met on the sidelines of the G7 Outreach summit.
India-Canada relations nose-dived last year when Trudeau alleged in Canadian Parliament that he had credible evidence to show Indian government’s involvement in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national.
India categorically denied the charges and described them as “absurd” and “motivated”. The slain Canadian was wanted in India as a Khalistan terrorist.
The Trudeau government is dependent on Sikh MPs’ support for survival in Parliament and has systematically denied or downplayed Indian concerns about Khalistani activists’ presence and their growing belligerence in Canada.
Trudeau said he has shared evidence with New Delhi that backed his claim. But India said that so far nothing was provided by Ottawa that was worth pursuing for the Indian investigating agencies.
No progress
The meeting in Italy shows that beyond homilies, neither side was willing to move forward to address each other’s concerns.
Trudeau told reporters in Italy in response to Nijjar’s killing, “I’m not going to get into the details of this important, sensitive issue that we need to follow up, but this was a commitment to work together, in the coming times, to deal with some very important issue.”
But India’s response to the meeting indicated that it was in no hurry to maintain bilateral relations and will keep up the pressure on Canada to take action against Khalistan separatists’ activities in the country.
Their meeting took place days before the US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan was due to meet with the Indian NSA Ajit Doval in New Delhi.
The Pannum case
The US has also charged India of being involved in the failed attempt to assassinate American citizen Gurpatwan Singh Pannun in the US. Western news reports claimed that the evidence on which Trudeau made his claim was shared with him by the US.
India has so far denied all the charges about its involvement.
“To date, we have never received anything which is specific and worthy of being pursued by our investigative agencies,” Indian external affairs minister, S Jaishankar said after Canada claimed that a fourth Indian suspect was arrested in connection with Nijjar’s killing.
India has been frustrated with Canada’s response to its concerns about Khalistan activists in the country as Ottawa has argued that so far, they have not violated any law of the country. Indian officials pointed out that despite the hype about the arrests in Nijjar’s killings and charges of Indian involvement, none of the four Indians asked for consular access.
Indo-US relations
The Modi-Trudeau meeting could have been held on a nudge by the US which has interest that the two countries iron out their differences as both are important partners. The US and Canada have traditionally enjoyed a close bond.
Washington works closely with Ottawa on several areas of mutual benefit, including security. But in recent years it has also built close strategic partnerships with India. It sees India as an important partner in the Indo-Pacific where China’s aggressive rise has raised concerns among the countries in the region.
However, the charges of extra-judicial killing by India in the Canadian and American soil of their nationals are serious issues that can adversely impact on the budding Indo-US ties.
However, India’s approach to dealing with the charges made by the US and Canada has been different. The leadership in New Delhi has made it clear that it will make all efforts to seriously look into the US allegations and set up a high-level inquiry to look into them.
Indian experts describe the ties with the US as the most consequential relation at present in India’s foreign policy. But India has not shown the same seriousness about the allegations made by Canada as their ties are not that substantial.
Also, even though Khalistan activists have attacked Indian missions in the US too, the American authorities have promptly acted to ensure such attacks did not recur.
India's concerns
The Trudeau government in contrast has been indifferent to Indian concerns, even when the pro-Khalistan movement activists have threatened physical harm to Indian diplomats and Indian property in Canada. Reports say the trial of Indian suspects arrested in connection with the attacks against the pro-Khalistan leaders, is likely to begin next month.
It is not clear if this will be discussed in Sullivan’s talks. He and Doval are likely to speak about cooperation between the two sides on strategic, technological and intelligence areas.
Canada has claimed that senior members of its intelligence has visited India a number of times in past months to share details about the allegations of Indian officials’ involvement with counterparts in New Delhi.
Trudeau’s optimism after his meeting with Modi indicates he expects close cooperation on the issue with India.
But without any categoric assurance and step by Trudeau against the Khalistan separatists who are wanted in India for terrorist activities, there is little hope that he will get much cooperation from India on areas of concern to him.
A recent Abacus polls survey has given the Conservatives a 20-point lead over Trudeau’s Liberal party. The Parliamentary election in Canada is due in 2025 but some reports say he may hold it later this year if the economy starts showing signs of growth. In such a situation, his dependence on his coalition partners, especially those with strong Sikh-domination, will only grow.
It is therefore highly unlikely that Trudeau will act against Khalistan separatists and isolate them to address Indian concerns in the coming months.
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