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Justin Trudeau should allay India’s concerns on Sikh separatism and terror

The Canadian prime minister’s India trip appears to be turning into a PR nightmare

editorials Updated: Feb 20, 2018 18:42 IST
Justin Trudeau,Canada,India
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, their daughter Ella Grace and sons Hadrien and Xavier pose in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, February 18(REUTERS)

The visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have been an occasion for India and Canada to celebrate and boost their long-standing relations, but the trip appears to be turning into a PR nightmare for the leader adored by millions around the world. Diplomats have noted that the visit appears to be heavy on photo opportunities and light on substantive engagements, with just half a day of the eight-day visit set aside for official engagements. Much has also been made of the lack of a personal welcome and an embrace from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, gestures that have been extended to leaders ranging from US President Barack Obama to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi. Indian officials have been at pains to clarify this wasn’t in any way a snub for the soft stand taken by Trudeau’s Liberal Party of Canada towards Sikh radicals espousing the cause of Khalistan. But the truth is this is a problem that has acquired serious dimensions in recent years and affected relatively trouble-free bilateral relations. Trudeau himself was seen at an event in Toronto last year that featured Khalistani flags and other separatist paraphernalia, a development that irked the mandarins in the external affairs ministry. Other developments such as a motion in the Ontario assembly describing the 1984 anti-Sikh riots as “genocide” have added to the angst in New Delhi’s officialdom.

Some have suggested that Trudeau and other Canadian politicians have not taken a position on the matter because of their plans to woo the 1.4 million-strong Indian-origin community, many of them Sikhs, for the elections next year. The Liberal Party also needs to shore up its position within the Indian-origin community in the face of the emergence of Jagmeet Singh as the leader of the New Democratic Party. But sections of the Canadian media have warned that Trudeau can ignore the problem of Sikh radicalism at his own peril. As an editorial in a Canadian daily pointed out, the 1985 bombing of Air India flight 182, the deadliest act of terrorism involving an airliner before the 9/11 attacks, was planned and carried out on Canadian soil and resulted in the death of 329 people, including 268 Canadian citizens. Even today, men considered the masterminds of this attack are eulogised as heroes in some Canadian gurdwaras. In such circumstances, mere comments about Canada’s support for a “strong and united” India will not do. The Canadian prime minister needs to acknowledge India’s concerns in order to take bilateral relations forward and build on the tremendous potential that exists in so many fields, ranging from nuclear energy to people-to-people contacts.

First Published: Feb 20, 2018 18:41 IST