2:32am, 8th March, 2018
The long awaited India tour of the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family came to an end this Saturday. Despite trying hard to the point of desperation, Trudeau’s visit could not make any positive impact on the Indians. The viral memes made on him managed to impress India more than the entire ‘Mimic the Native’ theme of the visit could.
Trudeau has been trolled relentlessly over social media for the weird choice of Indian attire during the course of his visit. The Trudeaus tried to strike a positive chord with the Indian people by dressing in traditional Indian attire but ended up looking more Indian than what Indians look like in weddings. The Trudeaus’ outright gaudy and flashy costumes displeased most Indians with some even considering it as an act of cultural appropriation. They even managed to upstage the Bollywood stars at the party they hosted for the Trudeau family. But this is not the first time that he has been in controversy for something like this. In a Toronto Gay Parade, he showed his support by wearing rainbow socks that had Eid Mubarak written on them ( Some Muslim countries are known to violently persecute gay people) to celebrate the month of Ramadan. His critics have stated that his over enthusiastic liberal attitude often misses to address the complexity of the issues. Something similar happened in his recent visit to India. Justin Trudeau’s over the top antics can be used to draw parallels with another fellow Canadian Justin’s overhyped gig last year. Both failed to live upto the hype.
On the top of that, Government of India left no stone unturned to snub the Canadian PM. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself receives the world dignitaries upon their arrival in India; but this time around, putting the protocol aside, a junior agricultural minister received the Trudeaus at the airport while PM Modi was busy campaigning in Nagaland. Our social media savvy PM did not even post a welcome tweet for them until five days into the trip. It got even worse when the Trudeaus visited Agra . They were not received by the Chief Minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh or even by any junior minister, but by district officials.
So why did India display this rude attitude towards Canada?
India has often accused Canada of sheltering the Sikh Separatists rooting for the separation of Punjab from India and the subsequent formation of an independent Khalistan. The violent Khalistan Movement in the 1980’s wreaked havoc in Punjab. India managed to suppress the militancy. But after the Indian Army cleared the Golden Temple of militants , PM Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her own Sikh bodyguards in 1984 leading to anti sikh riots in which thousands of Sikhs were killed across the country. The next year the militants had blown up an Air India plane flying from Canada to Mumbai.
Even though a minority group in Canada, Sikhs form a voting block for Trudeau’s Liberal Party. In fact , the sikh vote bank matters so much to the party that he even attended a Khalsa Day parade organised by a radical Gurudwara in Toronto. Some Gurudwaras in Canada have barred the entry of Indian diplomats .Trudeau publicly boasts of having more sikh ministers than Modi. All four of his Indian origin ministers are sikh who have been accused of having sympathies with Canadian sikh extremists .
Moreover, Trudeau’s attendance at the Canada-India Business Summit was overshadowed by reports that the Canadian High Commission in India had issued an invitation to the businessman Jaspal Atwal who has been convicted of trying to assassinate a politician in 1980s.
Canada maintains that it cannot curtail the freedom of expression of its sikh citizens whereas New Delhi maintains the stance that while Canadian citizens do have a right to support Khalistan or any group they identify with, the Canadian ministers do have a choice when it comes to associating with them. India demands that Trudeau publicly distance himself from the supporters of the secessionists. The issue had not been resolved till the visit as Canada refused to comply. Hence, the royal snub meted out to the Canadian contingent.
The effects of the visit on Canada-India relations:-
As for the outcomes of the visit, India-Canada relations remain frozen in time as Canada has little to offer in terms of assisting India with objectives including China, Pakistan, maritime security in Indian Ocean and in the subcontinent. Canada is reluctant to engage in such issues. Then there are trust issues regarding the Khalistan secessionist groups. India is afraid they might re-instigate Sikh separatism in the country and cannot rely on Canada for it’s prevention.
Trudeau’s over the top enthusiasm and sparkly costumes have failed to mask the epic fail that his India visit has been, drawing flak from all over the world. Moreover, Trudeau could not use this opportunity to bring content or continuity into bilateral relations with India. However the final joint statement does indicate that both countries are keen to expand strategic co-operation on several issues like Bilateral Foreign Investment Promotion , economic partnership, electricity and renewable energy efficiency. Efforts will continue on the civil nuclear front.
Trudeau has said in his statement that Canada supports “One United India” and has been all praises about India’s diversity and Pluralism. This is definitely not going to go down well will the Sikhs back in Canada. On the other hand, the revelation about Canada’s invitation to Jaspal Atwal has proved the linkage between Canadian ministry and the sikh extremist groups. Trudeau and his Canadian contingent’s actions have been suggestive of heir ulterior motif of securing their sikh vote bank through the visit. He has been trying too hard to keep everyone happy. Mr.Trudeau wants to appease his sikh vote bank and India at the same time. He can’t have both. And this time, his visit has been nothing but a messy failure as he has managed to displease both the Canadian sikh community and India . In an attempt to appease the two opposing parties, he has lost the confidence of both. His image has deteriorated back home as well as internationally. The Canadian PM did not only lose a great opportunity to strengthen ties with India but he missed out on warm Modi hugs too!!
Meanwhile, India’s stance on the issue is to be appreciated. India sent out a strong message that it will not be welcoming those who promote secession. It will definitely mount pressure on Canada to stop sheltering the Sikh extremists if Canada hopes on fruitful bilateral relations with India.