During the past year, the eruption of the Russo-Ukraine Conflict on 24 February 2022, the rising Global South with ideas of multipolarity in the world order, and changing geopolitical dynamics are indicators that the world actors have started behaving differently. What hints at the emergence of this drift is the self-sufficient style of governance and the foreign policy of the states. Similarly, over the years, India has been growing remarkably which has provided New Delhi leverage to pursue such policies such as coercive diplomacy.
Despite Canada remaining the favourite destination of so many Indians, both states have been experiencing differences over the Khalistan issue. Recently, New Delhi sent Canadian diplomats back home from India after Canada accused Indian intelligence agencies of the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar (a pro-Khalistan Canadian national) in June 2023. Soon after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded his visit to India for the G20 summit of this year, he spoke to his parliament and claimed that New Delhi was behind the killing of the Indian-born Canadian national. He went on to explain that the “credible allegations” are under investigation. However, India strongly rejected the Canadian allegations, calling them absurd and motivated. The statement from the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) noted that “such substantiated allegations seek to shift the focus from Khalistani terrorists and extremists.”
The dent in the diplomatic relations between India and Canada has implications for India’s terms with the entire Western bloc. Both nations, having historical ties to Britain, have actively collaborated with key Western countries to address common perceived threats and challenges. Canada, as a member of the Group of Seven (G7), and India, which recently presided over the G20 summit, play a significant role in shaping global strategies. India’s G20 presidency led to the establishment of the new corridor (India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC)) from India to Europe, mediated by the United States (US) and passing through the Middle East. On the other hand, Canada reportedly received intelligence from the Five Eyes alliances. These dynamics have posed severe challenges to India’s economic and geopolitical relations with the West, especially with the US. Therefore, there are questions regarding the impacts of the recent developments on India’s relations with the West.
The dent in the diplomatic relations between India and Canada has implications for India’s terms with the entire Western bloc.
Canada and India have been sharing cooperation and partnership on many trade issues. The two were involved in an Early Progress Trade Agreement (EPTA) leading towards the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) to bolster trade ties between the two countries. However, the trade mission of Canada which was planned to visit New Delhi this month is postponed by trade minister Mary Ng. This has not only strained the trade ties between Ottawa and New Delhi but also built a mutual mistrust among them. In addition, India’s engagement with the Western countries does not remain confined to the trade partnership but the scope extends to the strategic and geopolitical matters. India is also a part of the Indo-Pacific strategies of these countries including Australia, the US, and Canada. It is also a part of Quad, an alliance directed to contain China in the Asia Pacific region.
New Delhi’s consideration in Western policy-making has likely remained a counterweight to China. As a competitor, it challenges the Chinese emergence as a regional and rising global power. Therefore, any emerging contestation between India and the West can be less beneficial to the West. Even though China could not respond formally to the event, it will not mind anything that can reduce potential challenges for it in the region. Michael Kugelman with BBC noted a “strategic benefit” for China in case the differences between India and the Western countries prolong.
The US and Western countries are quite familiar with the impending cost in case their ties become worse with India. It is likely that if a major geopolitical shift happens, it will be the West at a loss. Although they have shown deep concern for the Canadian allegation, they have not indicated any intention to lose India at the moment. The policymakers in the West are also of the view that the US cannot afford to lose India due to geopolitical interests in the region. The director of the Center for New American Security, Lisa Curtis thinks that the “allegations will be overlooked” by the US in the long run. When it comes to choosing between New Delhi and Ottawa, former US Pentagon official Michael Rubin picked “India over Canada” as he termed the relationship as “too important” for the US. Similarly, The United Kingdom (UK) and the US governments remained careful in expressing their concerns officially. UK’s Prime Minister cautiously said he is in “contact” with Canada. The US failed to mention the fiasco in a joint statement after Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Indian counterpart and only asked for the enquiry rather than condemning India. Therefore, New Delhi managed to hold the West’s back against Canadian allegations due to the robust ties between the Canadian allies and the emerging economy.
To sum up, it is clear that the diplomatic rift between India and Canada poses severe challenges to the relations between India and the West. It will not only affect the ties between India and Canada but will also create challenges for US ambitions in the Asia Pacific. The differences between them will likely be beneficial for China. Therefore, both India and the Western world need to resolve their differences and maintain a strong partnership between them. Otherwise, it can damage the Indo-Pacific strategies of key Western countries. Therefore, the evolving global landscape demands cooperation among nations, and India’s role in countering emerging challenges remains crucial for the US and its allies.