India-Canada row: Risks of dissent

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 27, 2023
Political activists in foreign lands often make for heat, not light
TWTB collage: Top photo of Diwali lights in Little India, Singapore by User:Sengkang of ENglish

Welcome to This Week, Those Books, your rundown on books new and old that resonate with the week’s big news story.

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The Big Story:

The continuing international row over Canada’s accusation that Indian government agents were behind the murder of an Indian-Canadian in British Columbia this summer.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a vocal advocate for Khalistan, a separate homeland for the Sikh religious minority that makes up roughly 2% of India’s population and the same in Canada. India had declared him a terrorist, while in Canada, his activism was seen as protected speech.

  • This is the first time that India is accused of a political assassination on the soil of a Western country. It denies it.
  • Political dissidents in foreign lands are a familiar story as is the reality that their presence and politics often causes tensions between home country and host country.

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The Backstory:

  • India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly accused Canada of not doing enough to quell Sikh protests and “anti-India” activities within its borders.
  • China has long resented India’s hospitality to Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
  • In the 1990s, French intelligence services contemptuously dubbed the British capital ‘Londonistan’. It was a reference to UK-based Middle Eastern and North African dissidents campaigning against the governments of Egypt, Yemen and Algeria, among others.
  • Some 80 years ago, the former Soviet Union had Russian Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky assassinated in Mexico because of his opposition to Stalin.

This Week, Those Books:

  • A novel that covers Trotsky’s exile in Mexico and Communist witch-hunts in 1950s America.
  • The autobiography of Tibet’s most famous refugee.
  • A chronicle of the peripatetic existence endured by Reza Shah, who was forced to abdicate the Iranian throne.

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