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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Leaders of Indo-Canadian community to target politicians pandering to pro-Khalistan elements

The Ontario Assembly passed a resolution in April terming the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India a “genocide”. These leaders of the Indian community aim to counter politicians who have fostered the Khalistani narrative ahead of the Ontario polls next year.

world Updated: Jul 31, 2017 16:04 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
India Foundation’s chair Ajit Someshwar at the organisation’s awards gala this June.
India Foundation’s chair Ajit Someshwar at the organisation’s awards gala this June.(Credit: Courtesy CIF)

An influential segment of the Indian community in Canada is attempting to forge a coherent strategy to target politicians pandering to separatist elements espousing the pro-Khalistan viewpoint.

The effort, both at the federal and provincial levels, marks the first time the broader Indian community is trying to make its presence felt in the nation’s politics. Sikhs in Canada have already had significant success in the arena.

This initiative has been precipitated by a number of developments in recent months, including the passage of a resolution in the Ontario Assembly this April, which termed the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India a “genocide”. With elections in the Ontario due next year, the initiative will provide an opportunity to try and counter politicians who have fostered the Khalistani narrative.

Ajit Someshwar, one of the prominent figures behind this effort, said, “We are going to, during the provincial elections, single out those active anti-India campaigners and support their opponents regardless of party,” referring to the Ontario elections.

Someshwar, who is also chair of the Canada India Foundation (CIF), said, “We have decided, at least for the short term, not to promote politicians who are active in this effort to pass the genocide provincially and also their backers federally.”

Businessman Ramesh Chotai, considered among the leading people of the Indian community, said, “We’re proud have a large representation of the Indo-Canadian community in politics, but we also just want to remain united. We don’t want politicians to cause a fracture.”

Chotai refused to comment further on the matter except to say the effort is “a work in progress”.

A slate of measures in this regard include funding for candidates who do not support separatists and withdrawing funds from those that do. The preferred candidates, regardless of political party, may also be assisted in other ways, including help with staffing campaigns.

However, none of those backing this effort are willing to discuss those details on the record. They did make it clear that neither the Indian Government nor its representatives are involved in this plan in any way.

Also on the agenda is informing the Indian community about these issues, which may include a mail blitz aimed at the nearly 20,000 voters of Indian origin.

This situation is akin to that prevailing in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, when many American politicians constantly attacked India. But, with the Indian-American community coming together as a significant lobbying bloc, that narrative has evolved and in recent years, that has led to a consensus cross-party support for enhanced engagement between India and the US.

This is the first time a similar endeavour is being witnessed in Canada, as the Indian community attempts to broaden the base of participation in politics in the country, which has often been held hostage to an extremist fringe.

As Someshwar said, “It is not our role to get behind any one party. Our role is to create the right kind of environment for good public policy advocacy, that leads to the betterment of India and Canada relations. In that role, we will be supporting and encouraging more young people from our community to come forward and engage in the political process. For sure, we will be encouraging that with money and we will be encouraging that with access.”

First Published: Jul 30, 2017 15:31 IST