VANCOUVER: More than 135,000 Canadian Sikhs cast their votes in the Khalistan Referendum for the ultimate creation of Khalistan, a free and sovereign homeland for millions of Sikhs scattered around the world.
Organised by the US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) group, Khalistan Referendum’s voting campaign started in October 2021 in the UK and so far the voting has been held in over a dozen European capitals.
The previous highest turnout was in Canada’s Brompton five months ago but the participation of over 135,000 Sikhs at Surrey BC at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara broke all previous records.
Several hundred staff, hired by the independent Punjab Referendum Commission (PRC), managed the voting process.
The voting was closed at 5pm by the PRC as over 40,000 still queued to vote but were unable to do so due to the strict rules around the timing and the international voting regulations.
The PRC head Dane Waters announced that given the huge number of people who couldn’t vote another phase of voting will be held on October 29 in Vancouver.
The voting was held at the Gurdwara where leading Sikh activist and Khalistan Referendum Canada’s President Hardeep Singh Nijjar was assassinated on June 18, 2023, by a group of unknown men. Pro-Khalistan Sikh groups have accused the Indian government of being behind the killing of the famous Khalistani activist.
Since early morning, thousands of local Sikhs made queues to cast their votes. They were carrying posters of Sikh martyrs and chanting devotional and political slogans in support of Khalistan.
The Gurdwara was plastered with wall-sized posters of Hardeep Singh Nijjar who was also president at the same Gurdwara until he was killed.
SFJ General Counsel Gurpatwant Singh Pannun told the huge crowd at the end of the voting that the Indian government has yet again declared war on Sikhs by assassinating Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
He vowed that Sikhs would avenge the brutal killing of Nijjar who was a peaceful activist and believed in democratic means.
“Indian diplomats in Canada, Indian intelligence agencies, Ajit Doval, Amit Shah and Narendra Modi are directly involved in the killing of Hardeep Nijjar. India’s political death is a writing on the wall. Sikhs will stop at nothing less than the Balkanisation of India,” he said.
“We will avenge the killing using political means. We will use our political expression and the might of pen against India’s guns.”
Dr Bakhshish Singh Sandhu, president of the Council of Khalistan, said that the Canadian Sikhs had sent out a clear message to the Indian government that they would never accede to Indian oppression and would continue their struggle till gaining freedom from the Indian occupation. “The massive turnout shows Khalistan movement is not a fringe matter but a popular demand of millions of Sikhs.”
Dr Sandhu welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blunt statement in India where he said he had raised the issue of Indian interference in Canadian affairs with the Modi-led government.
Ahead of visiting India for the G20 Summit, PM Trudeau had said he will address concerns of foreign interference including those related to India during the G20 summit.
The Canadian government has publicly accused the Indian government of “foreign interference” in Canadian affairs, based on intelligence provided by the Canadian intelligence that the Indian state is involved in interference in Canada where nearly a million Sikhs reside and a large number of them are considered pro-Khalistan and anti-Hindutva.
Trudeau, whose liberal government recently launched a public inquiry into foreign interference allegations, also stressed the importance of scrutinising countries beyond just China. He stated: “We must remain committed to protecting Canadians from any and all forms of interference.”
It’s estimated that more than 750,000 Sikhs live in Canada — the largest number outside of India — but Sikh groups say the real number is over one million, who have left India to make Canada their home.
These referendums, initiated at the UK’s Queen Elizabeth Centre in October 2021, have been conducted in more than two dozen cities worldwide.
The roots of these referendums trace back to the traumatic event of Operation Blue Star in 1984 when the Indian army stormed the holiest Sikh shrine, the “Golden Temple,” ostensibly to capture alleged terrorists. This operation resulted in the loss of innocent Sikh lives and a profound disrespect for Sikh sentiments.
Many Sikhs sought refuge in countries like the UK, Canada, Italy, and the US to escape the insecurity in their homeland.
Mass genocide and extrajudicial killings have been employed by the Modi regime against the Sikh community. In response, Sikh diaspora groups like SFJ have organised referendums, protests, and advocacy efforts to assert Sikh rights on various platforms. The PRC has been established to facilitate fair voting for this fundamental demand.