Visa row: India to retaliate if Canada does not respond

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

‘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 India may take against Canada over what is widely seen here as the denial of visa 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.

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.

The home ministry made it clear that if the IB officer was not given visa, Canadian citizens wanting to go to the war-ravaged Afghanistan from India may face similar problems.

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’.

‘The matter was taken up immediately with the Canadian high commission,’ Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said here Tuesday.

The denial of visa and the reason given for it sparked an outrage in India, prompting the Canadian authorities to go on a damage control exercise and express ‘great respect for India’s armed forces and related institutions’.

The Canadian high commission has, however, yet to comment on the incident. Despite repeated attempts to contact him, the spokesperson of the Canadian high commission was not available for comment.

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