Back-channel talks between the Indian government and some pro-Khalistan elements in Canada could commence as early as this month in the North American nation.
The process began in November last year when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met overseas Sikhs during an official visit to Britain, and thereafter, London-based Jasdev Singh Rai emerged as a key interlocutor as he interfaced with groups in Britain and Canada.
Among the measures that have been initiated before the talks is giving visas to some of those who were earlier on an Indian government blacklist.
In Canada, there were hurdles in that area as well, as the procedure included asking visa-seekers to sign declarations certifying their adherence to the Constitution of India and disavowing Khalistan or an independent homeland for Sikhs.
One of those involved in the process, once a prominent leader in the banned International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), said on condition of anonymity: “I am a Canadian citizen, why should I be forced to accept the Indian Constitution?”
There are also concerns among sikh groups that forswearing Khalistan may cause those who have agreed to talks to lose credibility within their local community in Canada. It is understood that visa applications without those conditions have now been accepted.
Among issues that might be on the agenda for talks is some form of apology by the Indian government regarding Operation Bluestar, the storming of the Golden Temple by Indian troops in October 1984, and the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
One participant in the process, who did not want to be named, warned it could be a long haul. “We have to talk across major organisations, major temples, where people can make one agreement,” he said.
Initial groundwork was done by Rai in spring this year, but progress has been gradual because some hardline groups in Canada continue to oppose any reconciliation with New Delhi.
Modi sought to address the fractious relationship between the Indian state and overseas Sikhs since Operation Bluestar during his visit to Britain a year ago. His meeting with UK-based Sikh leaders was described at the time as a “breakthrough”.
The London meeting, opposed by some sections of the Sikh community, was followed by the release of some political prisoners, who had served their terms in Indian jails, and the removal of names from a blacklist of individuals who allegedly cannot visit India.
National security adviser Ajit Doval was deputed at the London talks to carry forward the dialogue with overseas Sikhs.