The Modi government has come under criticism for “cold-shouldering” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his ongoing visit to India. The talk is that Trudeau is being given a lukewarm reception by the Indian political leadership, due to his closeness to Canadian politicians who harbour sympathies for the cause of a Sikh separatist homeland of Khalistan.
“The allegations that Trudeau and members of his cabinet sympathise with the Sikh separatists are completely baseless. Just like there are fringe elements in every religion, so is the case in the Sikh community. As far as I am concerned, only 2-3% Sikhs want a separate Khalistan. Most Sikhs in India and in Canada do not subscribe to the idea of a separate Sikh homeland,” said Parminderpal Singh, the spokesperson of the Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee (DSGMC).
Singh averred that the Centre didn’t want to be viewed as too keen to host Trudeau ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections next year, in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be seeking re-election.
Trudeau has cut a lonely figure during his visit so far. Neither UP CM Yogi Adityanath nor Prime Minister Narendra Modi accompanied him during his visits to the Taj Mahal in Agra or on his daylong visit to Gujarat, respectively, a fact not lost on the Canadian and Indian media.
So far, only Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani and Maharashtra’s Devendra Fadnavis have given an audience to the visiting prime minister. Punjab chief minister Captain Aamarinder Singh held a one-on-one meeting with Trudeau today, which was followed by the Congress CM meeting the six cabinet ministers accompanying the Canadian leader.
PM Modi, known as a prolific tweeter, hasn’t yet sent out a welcome message from his Twitter account for the Canadian leader.
“It is clearly an attempt polarise the Hindu vote, as in Punjab, the Modi government has failed to keep some of its key electoral promises made at the time of general elections in 2014,” said Singh, adding that “They haven’t agreed to the request for a special package that the Punjab government has been demanding for years. Farmers in Punjab continue to commit suicide, even as the recommendations of the Swaminathan commission are not being followed. The dispute over sharing of waters in the Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal still remains unresolved,” Singh added.
He said that the “Khalistan bogey” was just being whipped up to divert attention from the failures of the Modi government.
Also a spokesperson of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), BJP’s junior alliance partner in the NDA, Singh said that the Sikh community in India wasn’t looking favourably on the treatment being extended to Trudeau. “The Sikh community in India will not look favourably on this either. Relations between the Sikh communities in India and Canada date back at least a hundred years. Whenever anything affects the Indian Sikhs, it does hurt the sentiments of Canadian Sikhs,” he said.
Singh added, “Canada has a large Sikh diaspora and four cabinet ministers of Sikh origin. Shouldn’t we, as Indians, be proud of the fact, considering that the current Indian government has just two Sikh ministers. The RSS doesn’t even consider Sikh as a separate religion. They think we are Hindus,” Singh pointed out.
The leader held Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh guilty of polarising the electorate, with his eyes on 2019 elections.
“Why couldn’t he meet Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan when he visited India last year?” Singh asked.
The Punjab CM had last year raised concerns over the alleged connections of members of the Trudeau cabinet to Khalistani sympathisers. Intelligence officials in Punjab had also claimed that Canada-based Khalistanis and their sympathisers contributed the largest chunk of hawala funding that was being tried to revive the separatist movement in Punjab.
A request for a meeting by Amarinder Singh with Trudeau was first rejected by the Canadian leadership, before being finally conceded. During the meeting between the two leaders, the Punjab CM reportedly expressed concern over the money flowing in from Canada to India in an apparent bid to revive the Khalistani movement.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari, whose father VN Tewari was assassinated by Sikh militants in 1984, said that India’s “sensitivities” had to be factored in by the Canadian leadership.
“There are certain sensitivities in Punjab that need to be factored in. Between 1980 and 1995, the state saw a wave of terror in which thousands of innocents lost their lives. And, therefore, under those circumstances, there is a perception that some of those people who were responsible for masterminding and orchestrating the entire dark era of terror continue to find shelter in Canada,” Tewari told National Herald.
The Khalistani movement, over a period from late 1970s through early 1990s, claimed more than 21,000 lives, on top of hundreds of casualties during Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984.
Justin Trudeau, the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, could face political backlash back home if he is seen as too keen to meet the Indian leaders.
“Captain Amarinder Singh had refused to Harjit Singh Sajjan last year, alleging that he had connections with Sikh separatists in Canada. If Trudeau had ceded to the request for a meeting with Amarinder Singh straightaway, he would have been attacked by the opposition in Canada,” Singh said.
Trudeau faces a re-election next year, in which he would be challenged by a Sikh prime ministerial candidate in New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Jagmeet Singh.
“We must not forget that Canada goes to polls in 2019. There is a sentiment among Canadian Sikhs that have not been treated well by the Indian leadership, as far as serving justice to the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots is concerned,” pointed Singh.
He said that India’s condemnation of a resolution passed in Ontario’s assembly by a legislator from Trudeau’s party declaring the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as genocide didn’t go down well with Canadian Sikhs.
In the aftermath, Indian government officials were being denied entry to gurudwaras in Canada, an expression of anger by the Sikh diaspora.
Singh flagged another concern that was affecting people-to-people ties between the two countries. “There have been instances when a person whose grandfather was accused of being a Khalistani sympathiser were denied visas to Canada by the Indian government. How can you punish someone for a crime allegedly committed by their grandfather?”
Numbering at approximately 1.2 million, Canada’s Indian community could swing the election in certain constituencies and be the difference between Trudeau’s winning and losing.
Requests for a comment to the Ministry of External Affairs didn’t elicit any response.