India and Canada are headed for an even frostier season in ties after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)’s latest move to pare down the number of Canadian diplomats in India, from 62 to 21. While New Delhi had made its demand to equalise the numbers in each other’s missions known last month, in the fiery aftermath of the Trudeau government’s allegations that India had a role in the killing of Canadian national and Khalistani activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, matters were thought to have cooled down. It had even been hoped that quiet diplomacy was at work to repair ties. However, Canada continues to hold, without proffering any further proof, that India must cooperate in its investigations against unnamed Indian officials, while India is standing by measures it has taken in reprisal: last month, after the tit-for-tat expulsions of their respective diplomats from security agencies, the Modi government suspended visas for all Canadians, and demanded the downsizing of Canadian diplomatic strength. This week, India issued an ultimatum for the removal of two thirds of those numbers with a deadline of October 31 — after which India would unilaterally withdraw diplomatic immunity. As a result, Canada’s Foreign Ministry flew out 41 of its diplomats and their families, calling India’s demand a violation of international law including the Vienna Convention. The MEA has retorted that the convention’s Article 11.1 does authorise India to “require that the size of a mission be kept within limits”. Canada has also conveyed that with staffing shortages now, consulate “in-person” visa services would no longer be provided. The Canadian Immigration Minister has added that India’s moves would not deter Canada’s prosecution in the Nijjar case.
The developments indicate that if there had been any diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation in the past month, they have been fruitless. Apart from the Modi-Trudeau and National Security Adviser meetings that had discussed the Nijjar case, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had reportedly met Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly in the U.S. on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. None of those appears to have turned the trajectory of events; attempts by Canada’s “Five Eyes” Allies to mediate have not worked either. While the allies have supported Canada’s claims, they have also shored up their ties with India, with possible visits by the British, U.S. and Australian leaders that will assure New Delhi. With diplomatic options exhausted for now, it is hoped a period of reflection will bring fresh counsel on how to break the logjam. Till then, students, tourists and businesspersons will suffer.