The recent conviction of a pro–Narendra Modi activist in Australia should be a wake-up call for Canadians.
Vishal Jood, an Indian living in Australia on an expired visa, has been in detention since April.
He assaulted Sikhs during clashes between pro-farmer protesters and those carrying out Tiranga or tricolour marches to celebrate Indian nationalism. He pleaded guilty to "assault", "occasioning actual bodily harm in company of others", and "armed with intention to commit indictable offence".
In return for the guilty plea, other charges were dropped and he received a one-year prison sentence. In lieu of time already served, he's likely to be released on parole next month.
Jood and his supporters have been accusing Sikh separatists in Australia of provoking them by insulting the Indian flag.
Since then, India’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has come to his defence. So much so, the BJP chief minister of the northwestern state of Haryana, Manohar Lal Khattar, has intervened on his behalf, asking for his release. Jood hails from Haryana.
Assailant portrayed as "Tiranga warrior"
The farmers’ agitation in India has entered its 10th month. They have been camping outside New Delhi asking for the repeal of controversial farm laws passed by the BJP government under Modi. These laws threaten the livelihood of the farmers and increase corporate control over the agro-industry.
Since Sikh-dominated Punjab is known as a breadbasket of India and its economy is based on agriculture, the agitating farmers from the state are predominantly Sikhs. As a result, the BJP and its supporters have been trying to discredit them as separatists seeking an independent Sikh homeland.
Especially in the Indian diaspora, where the movement for a sovereign Sikh state still exists, pro-BJP lobby groups have repeatedly tried to portray pro-farmer groups as anti-India secessionists.
Under these circumstances the two sides are locked in quarrels not only in Australia, but in Canada as well.
Following Jood’s arrest, his supporters started a campaign on social media describing him as a “Tiranga warrior”. It is worth mentioning here that such self-styled patriots also took out Tiranga car rallies across Canada, provoking Canada-based supporters of agitating farmers back in India.
Modi supporters active in Canada
If Jood’s case is any indication, history is repeating itself.
On September 5, 1914, two Sikh activists who were fighting against racism in Canada and the British occupation of India were shot to death by an agent of the British Empire. Bela Singh went inside the Sikh temple in Vancouver to kill Bhai Bhaag Singh and Badan Singh.
Bela Singh was working at the behest of a controversial immigration inspector, William Hopkinson, who was spying on the activists. Hopkinson precipitated fights within the South Asian community to weaken their struggle against injustice.
Another community activist, Bhai Mewa Singh, later assassinated Hopkinson and was executed.
The Tiranga rallies are modern-day attempts to weaken human-rights struggles in support of Indian farmers and against growing bigotry against religious minorities under Modi.
There is a need to delve deeper into relationships between organizers of such rallies and Indian officials posted in different parts of the world.
In Canada too, there have been angry exchanges between Tiranga rally organizers and pro-farmer protesters. The trend has picked up only recently, which suggests a positive correlation between the increased jingoism in India and a spike in number of Tiranga rallies.
This is despite the fact that the Hindu Right never traditionally embraced the Indian national flag represented by three colours and instead promoted the saffron flag to represent Hindu majoritarianism.
If anyone has truly insulted the Indian flag, it is BJP supporters who raised it during a rally in support of those arrested for raping and murdering an eight-year-old Muslim girl, Asifa Bano, in Kathua back in 2018. The accused committed this crime to terrorize local Muslims and force them to flee by using rape as a weapon.
Let no one confuse Jood’s actions with simple-hearted patriotism. It has more to do with the growing influence of pro-Modi lobby groups overseas and its growing foreign interference.
Jood will go down in history as a new avatar of Bela Singh, abeit by using assault, rather than murder, to advance the interests of authoritarian rule.