Modi is usually very friendly with other heads of states. He hugs them, takes pictures and his vigorous handshakes have reshaped diplomatic protocol for India. Then why did Trudeau land in India with his family, but there was no Modi waiting to welcome him. Modi had sent a junior Agriculture minister to greet the Canadian PM. There was no characteristic welcome message on Twitter.
When the Trudeaus visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, they were welcomed not by the provincial chief minister, not even a junior minister, but by district officials. Still, the Trudeaus managed to make memorable visuals at India’s famous mausoleum of love.
Image Credit: telenganatoday
But why has the Canadian PM been cold shouldered?
The answer lies in the Sikh populace of Canada. Sikhs in Canada form a voting bloc for Trudeau, so much so that he even attended a Khalsa Day parade organized by a radical Gurudwara, or Sikh temple, in Toronto.
The story begins with the Khalistan movement, India’s first tryst with violence after the tragedy of Partition. Some separatist tendencies in Punjab wanted a different land for themselves. Bhindranwale and his followers started a militant movement. Things came to a head when the militants hid in the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Indira Gandhi was compelled to send military forces into their sacred site to oust the militants.
The Sikhs did not take well to Indira Gandhi’s move to invade their holy site. Sikh guards killed Indira Gandhi, and havoc broke lose. Sikhs all over the country were isolated and murdered for the mistakes of few.
Whatever may have been the lessons from that chapter of history, it has residues in the present times. India has often accused Canada of sheltering Sikh separatists.
Sikh, numbering less than half a million, form the largest ethnic group among Indian-origin Canadians. All four of Trudeau’s Indian-origin ministers are Sikh. Amarinder Singh, chief minister of the Sikh-dominated state of Punjab and himself a Sikh, has publicly accused Trudeau’s ministers of having sympathies with Canadian Sikh extremists who would like to see Indian Punjab separated from India into the state of Khalistan.
For Trudeau himself, this Indian visit is about his vote bank of Sikhs back home in Canada. As the Khalistan issue simmers between India and Canada, New Delhi wants Trudeau to publicly affirm Canada’s commitment to “the unity and integrity of India.”
Canada’s position is that it cannot curtail the right to freedom of speech and expression of its Sikh citizens, but New Delhi wants Trudeau to publicly distance himself from Sikh separatists.
As the two sides were unable to resolve the tension by the time Trudeau landed in New Delhi, the aim of Modi’s snub is to mount pressure on the Canadians. Modi will meet Trudeau only toward the end of his week-long India visit. There’s time for a detente.
Trudeau will have to choose between making Modi happy and appeasing his Sikh voters.
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