India’s resumption of e-visa services in Canada after a two-month hiatus signals Ottawa has taken steps to address some of New Delhi’s concerns although a swift return to normal bilateral relations remains improbable, foreign policy analysts said.
Under Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership, these measures might not significantly mend India-Canada governmental relations or restart free trade agreement talks, unless Ottawa takes a firm stance against extremist groups within its borders, they said.
India resumed e-visa services to Canadian nationals on Wednesday.
“Indian eVisa facility has been restored from 22 November 2023, for all eligible citizens,” the Indian High Commission in Canada posted on X (formerly Twitter).
Foreign policy analyst and former Indian ambassador to Jordan, Libya, and Malta, Anil Trigunayat said: “Resumption of visa services gives us the confidence that as far as the safety and security of the diplomatic missions in Canada are concerned, apparently that has been addressed to some extent.”
Reinstating e-visa services is a routine measure, primarily aimed at facilitating the influx of students to Canada, Trigunayat said, adding “This move shouldn’t be viewed as a major breakthrough in thawing bilateral relations.”
“It primarily serves to expedite processes for Indian students and others eager to travel there,” he added.
At a media briefing on Wednesday, following a G20 virtual meeting in which Trudeau also joined, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said the resumption of e-visa services is a “logical consequence” as the situation has relatively improved.
“This had nothing to do with the G20 meeting. What happened was we had temporarily suspended visa issuance because the situation in Canada made it difficult for our diplomats, frankly to go to office and do the necessary work for processing visas. As the situation there has become more secure, or relatively improved, we have found it possible for the visa services to progressively resume. The physical visas had started in many categories. At that time, we had said that we will look at e-visas next. So it was a logical consequence of that,” Jaishankar said.
Relations between India and Canada deteriorated in September following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s allegation in parliament that Indian agents were implicated in the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Khalistan separatist recognized as a terrorist in India.
India rejected the allegation and asked Canada for evidence, following which New Delhi and Ottawa expelled a senior diplomat each in tit-for-tat moves, escalating tensions.
Soon, India suspended all visa services in Canada and sought parity in diplomatic presence, stating that India had concerns about continuous interference in Indian affairs.
In a piece for Press Insider last month, seasoned Indian diplomat K.P. Fabian wrote, “Canada realized that Trudeau’s statement in the House of Commons on 18 September had unintended adverse consequences. After India’s demand for downsizing Canadian diplomatic strength, Ottawa understood that discreet diplomacy would be better than public declarations.”
“The Canadian foreign office expressed a willingness to discuss the reduction of diplomatic staff in India. However, India rejected any negotiation on this matter on 5 October, as confirmed by the MEA spokesperson,” Fabian wrote.
Towards the end of October, India had restored visa services for some categories, including entry, business, medical, and conference.
Addressing the core issues that led to the downturn in India-Canada ties, Trigunayat highlighted the lingering impact of Ottawa’s unresolved allegations. “This stalemate reflects a deeper diplomatic rift, particularly under Trudeau’s leadership, suggesting a challenging path to fully restoring bilateral ties,” he said. The problem, he noted, lies less with the Canadian people and more with Trudeau’s specific policy approaches.
Pointing to Ottawa’s handling of extremist elements as a critical concern, he said: “The Canadian government’s apparent tolerance and even support for terrorist and extremist factions is deeply troubling.”
India’s unheeded extradition requests, despite providing substantial evidence, “is a significant barrier to advancing bilateral relations into a more cooperative and constructive phase,” he added.
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