Canada visa row: India to retaliate, apology clamour rises

New Delhi, May 27 (IANS) With public outrage rising over the denial of visas to several serving and retired officials of Indian security agencies, India Thursday warned Canada that it will retaliate if Ottawa does not take corrective action within ‘a few days’.

The visa row erupted less than a month before a visit to Canada by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

‘We have written to the external affairs ministry about it. If the Canadians don’t respond, we will retaliate,’ Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told IANS.

Asked if Canadians would be denied visas to India as a retaliatory measure, Pillai said: ‘Let’s see. It all depends on how they respond.’

Pillai said India will wait for a few days before deciding the course of action. ‘We will wait to hear from them. Let’s give them a few days’ time,’ said Pillai.

He, however, refused to spell out possible retaliatory steps or corrective action India may take against Canada over what is widely seen here as the denial of visas on extraneous grounds.

Pillai added that the external affairs ministry had summoned the Canadian high commissioner last week and sought an explanation.

One way to retaliate would be to deny visas to Canadian officials who go to Afghanistan via India, said highly-placed sources.

The home ministry wants the Canadian high commission to apologise, take back the comments and take action against the officers responsible for rejecting visas, the sources said.

Even as India awaits a concrete Canadian course correction measure, chief opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reflected public anger and asked Canada to apologise for its ‘unacceptable’ remarks about some serving and retired Indian security forces personnel whom it denied visas. The party also demanded ‘firmer and speedier steps’ from the Indian government in the matter.

‘We certainly demand an apology from the Canadian authorities. Such remarks are completely unacceptable to us,’ BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman told IANS.

The ruling Congress expressed surprise. ‘The government should take up the matter seriously with the Canadian authorities. The security agencies are performing a national duty,’ Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said.

The disclosure about cases of denial of visas to some former officials of the army, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and an officer of Punjab Police could cast a shadow over Manmohan Singh’s trip to Canada next month for the G20 summit.

Manmohan Singh is likely to take the issue with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper during his bilateral talks, official sources said. Such unseemly controversy could also affect the new upswing in bilateral ties as India and Canada are expected to seal a civil nuclear pact and begin negotiations on a free trade area agreement.

Lt. Gen. (retd) A.S. Bahia, a decorated Indian Army officer who is now a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal in Chandigarh, was denied visa in May on grounds that he had served in a ‘sensitive location’ of Jammu and Kashmir.

In yet another case, two brigadiers were denied visas in 2008 and another in 2009.

S.S. Sidhu, a retired IB officer, was denied visa on March 26, with the Canadian high commission contending that he belonged to the ‘inadmissible’ category of persons.

In the rejection letter, the Canadian high commission said Sidhu could not be given visa as he had served in an organisation like IB and, therefore, he could ‘engage in an act of espionage or subversion’ or ‘violence that would or might endanger the lives or safety of persons in Canada’.

Sidhu, who said he wanted to go to Canada just to see the new house of his daughter, has termed the rejection as a ‘disgusting reply from a friendly country like Canada and an insult to India’.

Sidhu was to visit Canada ahead of the trip of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh next month for the G-20 summit.

However, in Sidhu’s case, the Canadian high commission relented after the home ministry wrote a letter to the external affairs ministry protesting the move, sources said.

Last week, the Canadian high commission here refused a visa to Fateh Singh Pandher, a retired BSF constable, on grounds that he was associated with a ‘notoriously violent force’.