First there’s Punjab and then there’s the K word.
On the one hand, you see these heart-warming advertisements with ‘hariyali’ everywhere—happy, smiling faces of people who have landed jobs, joyful children who receive the best educational facilities, and athletes who are soaring to new heights in world class stadiums…
…and then there’s the Khalistan challenge: ‘K menace: NIA raids 50 locations’ (India Today); ‘Sinister K plot unravelled’ (Times Now); ‘K terrorists extort protection money from film and music industry’ (Zee News); ‘Strikes on K network imminent’ (Times Now Navbharat); ‘45 Khalistani terrorists in Punjab, Delhi, Chandigarh’ (Republic TV); ‘K terror—Is Canada going the Pakistan way?’ (ABP News)
Which is the Punjab we know and love? Neither, of course, but while we are expected to take such advertisements with a mighty dose of scepticism, the news that Punjab could be at the mercy of the dastardly network of Khalistani terrorists “breeding” mostly in Canada (Times Now) is frightening, to say the least.
Yet, that is the story we see on television news these days. There are tales of human trafficking, guns and gangsters, drugs and deadly terror plots. Newspapers, too, have told us how ‘Crime, terror, drugs…’ are the lifeline of Khalistani groups in Canada (Times of India) and the extortion rackets they run (Hindustan Times), which help them fund “yachts…clubs and bars in Thailand.” Imagine that.
The Canada-Khalistan coverage has been quite an eye-opener for viewers outside Punjab—which is why it begs the question: why has the mainstream Indian media paid little attention to what it now portrays as a serious threat to the country?
One story, many plots
We know the answer: once Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the “explosive” (NDTV 24×7) disclosure on 18 September, that there were “credible allegations of links between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar”, the spectre of Khalistani terrorism, funded by Khalistanis in Canada, has reared its ugly head, dramatically and dangerously, especially on television.
“How has Canada become a terror haven?” is one question ABP News and others have asked, and they have tried to answer it by providing all the lurid details mentioned above — mostly based on the National Investigation Agency (NIA) “dossiers” (NDTV 24×7).
The stories about ‘India v/s Canada’ (ABP News) and India versus Khalistani groups have several plots running simultaneously. Last week, newspapers and TV channels had explained all they possibly could about Trudeau’s “debacle”—as described by Canadian ‘global affairs expert’ Michael Bociurkiw on CNN News 18—the Khalistani movement in Canada, and the diplomatic brouhaha.
This week, newspapers have confined themselves, largely, to reports on the latest developments, with headlines on revelations by The New York Times on the US role in providing information about Nijjar’s killing to Canada and the Financial Times’ claim that the US, UK, and Canada did raise the issue with India during the G20 summit in Delhi early September. India’s reactions were prominently displayed in The Indian Express, The Times of India, and Hindustan Times, but by Wednesday, the issue had fallen off Page 1; even the inside pages only covered External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s speech at the United Nations.
Meanwhile, it’s an all-out attack in TV studios, against the Khalistani groups, Trudeau’s Canada – and everyone else. Without directly referring to the NYT or FT stories, TV news channels, repeatedly told us that no ‘saboot’, ‘nothing concrete’ had been shared with India —“Without evidence, this is going to cost Trudeau,” warned Republic Bharat.
ABP News examined “America’s double game”, Aaj Tak probed Pakistan’s ISI and Khalistani links, and Zee News and India Today described the ‘actions’ taken against Khalistani supporters—which consisted of seizing their properties and releasing copious amount of information—at least thus far. So, when India Today said ‘Khalistanis drop like flies’, we were bewildered—where exactly did they fall? We can only assume they meant the killing of alleged Khalistani terrorist Sukhdool Singh Gill in Winnipeg, Canada last week.
Channels also went on about “crackdown” on the K “goons” and provided details on how film production teams in Punjab had to pay ‘protection money’ to the gangs in Canada (Zee News), how there were plots to garget Hindu leaders, and how visas were arranged for low-skilled workers from Punjab to assist pro-Khalistan networks in Canada (Times Now, The Times of India). Times Now also played an audio tape on the ‘voice of terror’ demanding money from someone in Punjab.
A sole, in-depth coverage
A fallout of this narrative is that Justin Trudeau has become the dart board everyone is taking aim at—even mocking him: Sunday, Republic TV dissected his facial expressions: ‘hypothetical expression’, ‘moral lecture’, ‘meaningless’, ‘head scratching’. On Zee News, former diplomat Deepak Vohra claimed there was cocaine on Trudeau’s aircraft and that he may well have consumed some…
Several channels interviewed Canadian experts or politicians to criticise Trudeau—and here’s the thing: They obliged. In India, no one said anything against the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the diplomatic crisis or the claims made by the foreign media, or Canadian and US officials. If they had, they would be branded as ‘anti nationals’.
On CNN News 18, first Bociurkiw said Canada had yet to give proof to India, and that Trudeau would lose an election were it held today. Peter Mackay, a former defence minister in a previous Conservative government, said that the perpetrators of the Nijjar’s killing had not been arrested yet, that Trudeau’s allegations were “vague” and “beyond odd”.
The one standout report I watched was on NDTV 24×7, which had an in-depth coverage on ‘What led to the India-Canada fallout’ by Maha Siddiqui. It was informative, well-researched, and put everything in perspective.
TV9 Bharatvarsh provided relief from Trudeau and Khalistan by continuing its reporting on the Ukraine crisis. Only an end to the Russian-Ukraine war will stop the channel from its ‘world war’ obsession.
President Putin, please help.
The author tweets @shailajabajpai. Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)