India has formally requested that Canada withdraw approximately 40 of its diplomatic personnel from India, marking a significant escalation in a protracted diplomatic dispute, according to reports. The Financial Times was the first to report that those who remain in India beyond October 10 would forfeit their diplomatic immunity.

The origins of this conflict date back to last month when Canada suggested that India may have been involved in the assassination of a Sikh separatist leader on Canadian soil, an allegation that India vehemently denies.

A spokesperson from the Indian foreign ministry declined to comment when approached by the BBC regarding this development.

It’s important to note that Canada maintains a significantly larger diplomatic presence in Delhi compared to India’s representation in Ottawa. Consequently, since this dispute began, India has called for Canada to achieve diplomatic parity between the two nations.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters, stressed that he does not seek to escalate tensions with India, emphasizing their intent to engage with India responsibly and constructively.

The relationship between these two historically close nations has been strained, particularly after Trudeau’s statement in September, suggesting that India may have been involved in the June 18th killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen shot by two masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia.

India had designated Nijjar as a terrorist in 2020, and Trudeau’s remarks in the Canadian parliament led to investigations by the country’s intelligence agencies into potential involvement by “agents of the government of India” in Nijjar’s killing.

India denied the allegations while expressing willingness to examine any specific information provided by Canada. Consequently, both countries have expelled one diplomat each from the other’s nation.

On September 21, India ceased issuing visas to Canadian citizens, citing “security threats” at its missions in Canada. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, explained that India sought “parity in rank and diplomatic strength” between the diplomatic missions of the two countries due to Canadian diplomatic interference in India’s internal affairs.

Canada also announced a reduction in its personnel in India, citing threats against some diplomats on social media and prioritizing the safety of its diplomats amidst heightened tensions.

Canada’s visa services in India remain operational, while the US, UK, and Australia have urged India to cooperate with Canada’s investigation.

The Indian government has consistently responded strongly to demands from Sikh separatists in Western nations for Khalistan, a separate Sikh homeland. Hardeep Singh Nijjar was a vocal supporter of the Khalistan movement, which witnessed a violent insurgency in India’s Sikh-majority Punjab state during the 1980s, eventually being quashed through force.

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