The recent denial by India of its involvement in the killing of Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada has not only strained relations between the two nations but has also raised questions about India’s standing with its strategic partner, the United States. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s statement at a press conference last Friday suggests that the United States may be more inclined to believe Canada’s allegations than India’s denial. Sullivan left no room for ambiguity when he stated, “I firmly reject the idea that there is a wedge between the US and Canada. We have deep concerns about the allegations, and we would like to see this investigation carried forward and the perpetrators held to account.” Sullivan’s unambiguous stance underscores the fact that the Biden administration is not fully convinced by India’s explanation. While the United States has a vested interest in building a strong bilateral relationship with India to counterbalance China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region, it appears that the trust in India’s position has been eroded by recent events. It is clear that the Biden administration is treading carefully to avoid damaging its relationship with India. However, the sense of closeness that existed between the two nations before this incident may not be as strong moving forward.
The strained relationship between Canada and India has also cast doubt on Modi’s plans to invite President Biden as a guest on Republic Day. Sullivan’s comments regarding this matter are noteworthy: “We are in continuous communication and consultation with the Canadian government. And we will remain so as we go forward. And I do not have anything to announce about travel by the President to India in January or at any other time today.” Canada’s significance to the United States cannot be overstated. In the context of the Ukraine crisis, Canada has actively supported Ukraine, providing not only political but also military assistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent address to the Canadian parliament highlighted Canada’s critical role in aiding Ukraine during a time of crisis. The accusation against India has been made by Canada’s top executive, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which has led to questions about his motivations. This issue was reportedly discussed during meetings between Modi and Trudeau at the G20 summit in Delhi, as well as in discussions between Biden and Modi.
This crisis comes at a precarious moment for Western countries, which have been looking to India as a rising military, trade, and technological counterweight to China. India’s strengthening ties with Israel and its shift toward a more aggressive approach to counter-terrorism have also been noted. This reorientation has come to be known as the “Doval doctrine”, named after Ajit Doval, Modi’s influential national security adviser. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Canadian affair could not have come at a worse time, as he was basking in the success of the G20 summit. It is now incumbent upon him to demonstrate diplomatic prowess in persuading President Biden to understand India’s position. Failure to do so could lead to further complications in India’s relations with Western nations. The strained relations between India and Canada have placed significant diplomatic challenges on the table. India’s ability to navigate these challenges and rebuild trust with the United States will be a crucial test of its diplomatic acumen in the global arena.