The Canadian Prime Minister should be complimented for his efforts to win over Indians through public diplomacy, which is something you wouldn’t usually associate with a visiting foreign dignitary. Traditional costumes and visits to iconic places like the Taj Mahal and the Golden Temple meant Justin Trudeau and family were openly expressing their love and admiration for India’s culture. But by the time the trip ended, it was labeled as a ‘disaster’ by many media organisations – the reason being the highly sensitive issue of Khalistan.
The ruling Liberal Party in Canada has historically been soft on the secessionist groups in Canada, especially those advocating for an independent Khalistan. As per estimates, around five lakh Sikhs reside in Canada and form a small but prosperous community. It was evident that Trudeau was trying to appease the Sikh voters back home, as four out of six cabinet ministers who were part of his delegation were Sikhs. But in the process of securing this vote bank, India’s legitimate concerns were being ignored.
The Khalistan movement reached its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, flourishing in the Indian state of Punjab, which has a Sikh-majority population and has been the traditional homeland of the Sikh religion. Various pro-Khalistan outfits have been involved in a separatist movements against the government of India ever since. There are claims of funding from Sikhs outside India to attract young people into these pro-Khalistan militant groups. Though the movement has mellowed down, it continues to bring back scary memories of significant events of that time including Operation Blue Star and Indira Gandhi’s assasination.
The Canadian government’s complicity can be ascertained from the fact that a Canadian journalist, Manvir Singh Saini, who had protested Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Canada in 2015, was also a part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s delegation. In April 2015, pictures had surfaced of Saini holding banners that said, “Modi is a Terrorist”, “Modi you are not welcome in Canada” and “India out of Khalistan”.
Another incident which caused an uproar was the presence of Jaspal Atwal in an event organized by the Canadian High Commission which was also attended by Trudeau and his family. Atwal was a Sikh separatist and among the four men who had attempted to assassinate cabinet minister Malkiat Singh Sidhu in Vancouver Island in 1986. The men had ambushed Sidhu during a private trip to Canada and fired shots at his car.
In damage control mode, PM Trudeau said Atwal should have never received an invitation and blamed a member of Parliament for including his name on the guest list. It is another debate how Atpal was issued a visa by Indian authorities, considering his background.
Canada is a highly developed economy with a good technological base. On the other hand, India is a promising new economy with a very lucrative market. Both nations share ideas of democracy, secularism and diversity. A healthy relationship between the two can go a long way in bringing prosperity to the people of both countries.
However, Canada must have realised by now that romance with India and support for anti-Indian forces cannot go hand-in hand. And as a liberal leader, it becomes all the more important for someone like Justin Trudeau to speak and take action against groups who try to threaten the unity and sovereignty of another nation.