New Delhi: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Thursday strongly rejected Canada’s allegations of New Delhi interfering in their elections, saying that it was Ottawa that was interfering in India’s internal affairs. This came days after Canada’s federal commission of inquiry into foreign interference said it was looking into alleged meddling by India in the country’s last two general elections, according to local media.
The commission, in a statement last month, said it has asked the federal government to produce documentation related to these allegations of Indian interference in Canadian elections. The commission’s terms of reference, published last year, direct it to assess possible interference by China, Russia, and other foreign states or non-state actors in the 2019 and 2021 federal elections, according to CTV News.
It is the first time India has been hit with allegations of election interference in Canada, joining China and Russia that were already suspected of meddling in Canadian politics, according to The Independent, which further risk inflaming the already tense relations between the two countries following a diplomatic spat over the death of an India-designated Khalistani terrorist.
“We have seen media reports, Canadian Commission inquiring into foreign interferences…we strongly reject such baseless allegations of Indian interference in Canadian elections, it is not govt of India’s policy to interfere in the democratic process of other countries, in fact, quite on the reverse it is Canada, who has been interfering in our internal affairs,” said MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal on Thursday, adding that India has continued to call on Canada to take effective measures to address new Delhi’s concerns.
The federal commission is led by Quebec Judge Marie-Josee Hogue and is charged with conducting an independent public inquiry into allegations of attempted foreign interference in Canadian affairs by China, Russia and other countries.
According to a report by Global News, India was identified as a ‘potential threat’ to Canada’s democratic processes, along with China, according to the declassified top-secret briefing report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). The federal commission has signalled its intention to probe any role India might have played in influencing the two ballots. The commission’s initial hearings in March will look at the challenges and limitations of disclosing classified national security information and intelligence to the public.
The allegations threatened to further strain India-Canada tensions, which soured last year following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation about India’s suspected involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down outside his residence in Surrey, British Columbia. India denied the allegation as absurd and politically motivated while demanding Ottawa to provide evidence to substantiate its claims.
This resulted in a diplomatic row broke out between the two countries as New Delhi suspended visas for Canadians, while Ottawa recalled 41 diplomats from India. The acrimony between India and Canada has delayed discussions on a free-trade deal and threatened Ottawa’s plans to expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, where New Delhi’s cooperation is critical to efforts to check an increasingly assertive China.
Trudeau claimed that he had made public allegations against India in the killing of Hardeep Nijjar as there was a need to put a ‘chill on India’ in light of what was being reported in India. “Too many Canadians were worried that they were vulnerable,” he said, adding that the Sikh community in BC had been raising concerns since shortly after Nijjar was killed.
Additionally, Canada experienced a significant decline in the issuance of study permits to Indian students towards the end of last year, largely associated with India expelling Canadian diplomats responsible for processing these permits and reluctance from Indian students over the diplomatic spat.
A former top Canadian official recently told local media that India is cooperating with Canada on the probe surrounding Nijjar’s death and the bilateral relations between the two countries were improving. “I wouldn’t describe them (the Indians) as not cooperating. I think we’ve made advancements in that relationship,” said former Canadian national security adviser Jody Thomas.
(with inputs from agencies)
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