A Sikh politician from Ontario province considered persona non grata by the Indian government is expected to announce his intent to run for the leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP), one of Canada’s three major national parties.
The 38-year-old Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal (better known as just Jagmeet Singh) will make the “special announcement” in the Toronto suburb of Brampton on May 15.
Popular within the party and its supporters, Singh, who is a member of the provincial parliament in Ontario, will become among the favourites to replace outdoing NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, who was Leader of Opposition when Conservative Stephen Harper was prime minister.
Singh’s announcement will not be a welcome development for New Delhi. He may have become the first elected representative from Canada, if not the West, to be denied a visa when he was refused the travel document in December 2013.
While not referring directly to Singh, India’s consul general in Toronto at the time, Akhilesh Mishra, told the Canadian daily Globe And Mail in an email at that time that, “Anyone indulging in, directly or indirectly, attacking India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is not welcome to India.”
Singh had also moved a motion in the Ontario Assembly last year to declare the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India “genocide”. While that motion was defeated, a similar one, moved by Liberal Party lawmaker Harinder Malhi, was carried this April.
In her speech introducing the motion, Malhi referred to and recognised Singh for the earlier motion. While speaking on the floor of the assembly during the debate on the motion, Singh had been critical of India and the Narendra Modi government. He also raised the denial of visa to him, as he said, “This is a country that continues to use visa denial as a form of silencing its critics.”
Singh has been considered one of the rising young leaders in Canada and one who has been celebrated for his impeccable dress sense, having figured in fashion spreads in Canada and the United States.
He has been influential in the Greater Toronto Area and has increasingly been called on to campaign for NDP candidates in other provinces, as in the case of recent elections in British Columbia.
Mulcair resigned from the post of party leader after the NDP was reduced to third place in the Canadian federal elections in 2015.
After a series of leadership debates take place, the first round of voting in the leadership race will begin on September 18. Singh’s entry into the contest will make it one that India will watch keenly.