It is often referred to as the last bastion of the Khalistan movement. Vancouver is the hub of Sikh separatism, or at least what is left of it.
No Indian Prime Minister has visited Canada since the movement took root in India and found a fertile ground in Canada.
Almost two decades after the movement petered out in India, it continues to find favour among many Sikhs in Canada. Posters of Khalistan are visible in gurdwaras and community leaders still harbour a grudge against the Indian government for not bringing to justice the perpetrators of crimes against the Sikh community.
Recently, Punjabi film ‘Sadda Haq’ renewed memories of hardships faced by militancy and riot-affected families. Though experts say facts have been arguably twisted in the film, many youngsters claim that this is the version they have heard from their parents and grandparents.
There are mixed feelings that Canadian Sikhs have towards the BJP. While some lean towards it because of the close and long association that the BJP has with the Shiromani Akali Dal and its right-wing leanings, still others are wary of allowing themselves to trust the new breed of BJP leadership, which has strong Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) links.
Despite India having a Prime Minister of Sikh faith for 10 long years, there was no bilateral visit to Canada by Manmohan Singh. He visited Toronto for the G-20 summit. He and Gursharan Kaur paid respects to the 329 victims of the 1985 Kanishka bombing and assured their families that the “entire Indian nation shares your sense of loss and grief”. But Sikh separatists held noisy protests in Toronto against the presence of what they termed ‘India’s poster-boy Prime Minister’, even though Manmohan Singh had expressed regret on behalf of the Congress against the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
In 2009, while campaigning in Punjab during the Lok Sabha elections, Manmohan Singh had said that the 1984 riots were a “painful episode but cannot be kept alive for ever.”
It is likely that Modi will also take the same line. Express regret, symbolically apologise to the community in the spirit of Michchami Dukkadam, an ancient Prakrit phrase, which literally means “may all the evil that has been done be fruitless.”
Modi is sure to invoke the sentiments of forgiveness and compassion that are common in all faiths, when he visits a gurdwara and a temple in Vancouver.
He is expected to call upon the Hindu and Sikh communities to lay to rest inter-community fracas and join in nation-building both in Canada and India.
Modi is expected to extend an arm of friendship to pro-Khalistani hardliners to turn the tide of anti-India sentiment. It is a challenge, no doubt, but it is a challenge that he has taken on. Nobody before him even tried.