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Trudeau is taking what was once the fringe into the mainstream

As the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau completed his eight-day visit, marked with more trips than you would see in a neighbourhood game of langri taang, his entourage left behind a whopper to chew on. That tale still stands tall, whipping up emotions in Ottawa.

columns Updated: Mar 03, 2018 13:35 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times
Trudeau,Modi,Trudeau India Visit
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi, February 23, 2018(AFP)

Conspiracy theories have always been as much part of the Indian fabric as the ability to argue every facet of any matter. The latest example of this predilection, of course, was the speculation around the death of megastar Sridevi. Breathless voices read forensic tea leaves on television, faces were marked with frowns of interrogation, as every clue was collected and magnified under the lens of public prosecution.

There are plenty of previous instances, focusing on demonetisation, Padmavat, Aadhaar and much more, and all within the past 18 months.

Given that this is, and has been, a cottage industry in India, you would hardly think that imports are necessary. But as the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau completed his eight-day visit, marked with more trips than you would see in a neighbourhood game of langri taang, his entourage left behind a whopper to chew on. That tale still stands tall, whipping up emotions in Ottawa.

Jaspal Atwal, a person once convicted of an assassination attempt on a visiting minister from Punjab in the 1980s, being invited to an official dinner at the Canadian High Commissioner’s residence in New Delhi, was another example of the false steps during the Trudeau trip. Just about the only time he made the right moves was while doing the bhangra while making an entrance at that very reception.

The Canadian PMO sent out a senior member of the country’s national security establishment to brief the media, the Canadian newsfolk that is since Indian hacks weren’t invited. This unidentified mandarin was tasked with trying on the spin that the Indian government had somehow planted Atwal (despite background checks by Canadian agencies) to embarrass Trudeau. The Canadian PM, meanwhile, has told the House of Commons that “when one of our top diplomats and security officials says something to Canadians, it’s because they know it to be true.”

This just adds another layer of the ridiculous to the bilateral engagement. It’s gone awry because this diplomatic arena is strewn with conspiracies. That Indian diplomats attempted to sabotage the campaign of Jagmeet Singh to become the leader of the New Democratic Party is one. Another, even more dangerous, is that the terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985 was a false flag operation by the Indian government. There is a understood code for this: Chants of a fresh investigation, refusal to criticise the principal perpetrators like Talwinder Singh Parmar of the Babbar Khalsa, portraits of whom still adorn some gurdwaras in Canada. This was the worst case of aviation terrorism in the world till 9/11, which itself attracts plenty of alternate charlatanry.

Multiple investigations and a Commission of Enquiry have established the facts, but in this age of fake news, other versions of reality go viral.

But these were marginal elements pushing these paranoid premises for political purposes. When the Prime Minister of the nation plays along, it only leads to the mainstreaming of the fringe.

First Published: Mar 03, 2018 11:40 IST