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SOURCE: THE PRINT

Taking advantage of the ongoing protests by farmers against the three controversial farm laws, Pakistan is now trying to fan the agitations through some sections of the Sikh community in Canada that have links with Khalistani operatives, ThePrint has learnt.

Pakistan is attempting to do so by organising a ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement from Canada that “Khalistani sympathisers” are facilitating in which they will come and join the protesting farmers, but none of them have been granted visas to travel, top sources have told ThePrint.

While the sections having links to the Khalistani operatives are a minority in the 6,00,000-strong Sikh community in Canada, they are nevertheless a “noisy minority” that can interfere in any issue, from Kashmir to farmers’ protests, in order to create internal disturbances in India, sources added.

This is, however, impacting the larger Sikh community there that is against these Khalistani operatives, and are trying to save their image from getting dented due to the “rising polarisation”, sources said.

Meanwhile, sources also said the Indian government is making all-out efforts to build bridges with the Sikh community in Canada.

India trying to build bridges with Sikh community 

The Indian government, through its High Commission in Canada, is making all possible efforts to “build bridges with the strong Sikh community by working behind-the-scenes and engaging with them in various ways”, sources said.

It has already removed a number of Sikh expatriates who were blacklisted from traveling to India owing to some of the crimes they had committed in the past such as land-grabbing.

The Indian High Commission has also taken initiatives such as organising live visa camps in some of the gurdwaras across Canada to facilitate their travel to India, but owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, Indian consulates in Toronto and Vancouver are not fully operational.

However, organisations such as the World Sikh Organisation (WSO) of Canada, Sikhs for Justice, and Khalsa Aid International continue to create troubles for the government making it difficult for the majority of the Sikh community there to maintain cordial ties with India.

“Pakistan has been trying to mobilise Khalistani elements not just in Canada, but also in various capitals of western countries. They try to misguide people and Pakistan indulges them,” Sharat Sabharwal, India’s former high commissioner to Pakistan, told ThePrint.

“A lot of Khalistani supporters still live in Pakistan and Pakistan uses them to rake up every internal issue pertaining to India. But they don’t make a substantial difference. I am sure the farmers and the people of India are not influenced by them,” he added.

‘Impact our bilateral ties’

While Indian diplomats in Canada have been barred from entering some of the gurdwaras owing to the Khalistani elements, sources said it is impacting the lives of prominent Sikh individuals as well.

One such case is that of Nav Bhatia, a popular face of the Indo-Canadian community there, who has been conferred with the title of  ‘Superfan’ of Canadian basketball team, Toronto Raptors.

Bhatia was last month conferred with a $50,000 Global Indian Award by the Canada India Foundation (CIF), a Toronto-based Indo-Canadian advocacy group.

However, sources said, owing to pressure from groups such as the WSO and others, Bhatia returned the award immediately. The WSO at the time stated that the CIF has been “steadfast Sikh genocide deniers and have a history of being Indian state violence apologists”. It also hailed Bhatia’s move to return the award, saying he had done the “right thing”.

Sabharwal said: “In reality, these Khalistani organisations have no real stake either in India or in Punjab. They are well-off there having comfortable lives.

“Our mission keeps a close eye on them and they reach out to the genuine members of the Sikh community. But it does impact our bilateral ties with these countries. If the Canadian prime minister is making a statement on their behalf, it cannot be that it won’t have an impact on the ties,” he added.

Last month, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau had expressed concern over the farmers’ protest, saying the “situation (in India) is concerning”.