A Crumbling Façade

Modi unmasked amid rising tensions between India and Canada

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 Summit on 10 September. Eight days later, Trudeau alleged something that threatens to rip off Modi’s façade. The Canadian Press / Alamy Photo
23 September, 2023

The Sangh ideologue KN Govindacharya reportedly once described Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he was prime minister, as a mukhauta, or a convenient façade, for the Bharatiya Janata Party; the real leader was the supposed hard-line Hindutva warrior LK Advani. Govindacharya has subsequently denied this, but it is well established that, in that era, the Sangh Parivar needed two actors to play different roles. Now those two roles are played by the same actor, Narendra Modi, who is both the false face and the real leader. That façade is on display for a foreign audience, where Mohandas Gandhi is invoked, while his party colleagues and ideological brethren in India continue to eulogise and emulate Gandhi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse.

Godse at home, Gandhi abroad—the duplicitous mantra of Modi’s success appeared unassailable, reaching its zenith with the hosting of the G20 summit at Delhi, which included a choreographed trip for all leaders to Gandhi’s cremation site. Among the visitors was Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, who, within eight days of that photo opportunity, alleged something that threatens to rip off Modi’s façade. The charge was made by Trudeau in a special session of parliament, lending it the maximum gravitas, authority and force that he could summon. Trudeau claimed investigations had suggested the possible involvement of “agents of the government of India” in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen.

Contrary to mainstream Indian media reportage, the charge has neither been rebuffed by Canada’s allies nor has there been any public support for India. Initial statements of support for Canada seemed mild, but the presence of the US national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, at a White House press briefing on 21 September, was significant. Sullivan, who is seen as the staunchest backer of strong ties with India at all costs, said that New Delhi will not get “some special exemption … for actions like this.” He asserted that the United States would “consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process.” A few days later, the US secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, made his country’s position even clearer. He called on India to cooperate with the investigations stating “we are extremely vigilant about any instances of transnational repression, something we take very, very seriously.” This should put to rest the creed that the Biden administration is going to choose its convergent interests with India—of containing China—over its shared values with Canada.

For most Indians, Canada is a “soft” country that is an insignificant player in the global powerplay. They forget that Canada is a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a member of the G7 and, most relevantly for this case, part of the very exclusive Five Eyes intelligence alliance. Official reports in Ottawa have cited evidence to show that Canada “receives more from the Five Eyes alliance than it sends to that alliance.” A Canadian media report has revealed that some of the intelligence that led to the allegation against India “was provided by an unnamed ally in the Five Eyes intelligence alliance.” The needle of suspicion points towards the United States, because Britain, Australia or New Zealand are unlikely to have those kinds of signals intelligence capabilities.