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Justin Trudeau to meet PM Modi, talks on radical Sikh groups, free trade agreement likely

Trudeau has faced intense scrutiny from the media back at home and in India over different aspects of his visit, including his government’s perceived softness towards pro-Khalistan elements in Canada .

india Updated: Feb 23, 2018 12:13 IST
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
Rezaul Hasan Laskar
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Justin Trudeau,PM Modi,Narendra Modi
Canadian Prime Minister JustinTrudeau and his family being welcomed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Rashtrapati Bhawan in New Delhi on Friday. (Vipin Kumar / HT Photo)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi will on Friday attempt to shore up bilateral relations after a rocky start to the visiting leader’s trip, which was hit by one controversy after another.

Trudeau has faced intense scrutiny from the media back at home and in India over different aspects of his visit, including his government’s perceived softness towards pro-Khalistan elements in Canada and the absence of a personal welcome from Modi when he flew into New Delhi on February 17.

Though the visit had been in the pipeline for more than a year, commentators noted the apparent lack of careful planning in putting together Trudeau’s itinerary – only half a day of the eight-day trip was set aside for substantive engagements, including meetings with Modi and other Indian leaders.

The visit was buffeted by a fresh controversy on Thursday after it emerged that convicted Khalistani terrorist Jaspal Atwal, who was convicted of attempted murder after he admitted to an attempt on the life of an Akali Dal leader in Canada in 1986, had been invited to a dinner reception hosted for Trudeau by the Canadian high commissioner.

Trudeau, who has been at pains to assure his Indian hosts that he believes in a “one united India” and that his government opposes violent extremism, said the invitation to Atwal had been rescinded and should never have been extended in the first place.

The Canadian MP from Trudeau’s Liberal Party who asked for Atwal to be included in the guest list also offered an apology.

But the damage had been done, just hours ahead of the crucial talks with Modi, and with former Indian diplomats and commentators holding up the episode as an example of the Canadian government’s softness towards radical Sikh groups that continue to back the movement to carve out an independent Sikh homeland.

Former Canadian minister Ujjal Dosanjh, who survived a murderous attack by Atwal in 1985, said the episode also reflected the deep inroads made by pro-Khalistan elements into the Liberal Party. Trudeau has also been accused by Canadian commentators of using the India visit to woo the influential Indo-Canadian community ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

On Thursday night, Modi finally sent out a set of tweets welcoming Trudeau and his family, setting the tone for Friday’s engagement. “I look forward to meeting PM @JustinTrudeau tomorrow and holding talks on further strengthening India-Canada relations in all spheres. I appreciate his deep commitment to ties between our two countries,” he said in one tweet.

The shadow of Khalistan is expected to linger over the talks, with the Indian side likely to seek fresh commitments from the Canadian leader on tackling the activities of radical Sikh groups. Stalled negotiations on a free trade agreement and another pact to promote and protect investments are also expected to come up in the talks.

Trudeau will meet external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj ahead of his talks with Modi. After a one-on-one session, the two leaders will be joined by the Canadian ministers accompanying Trudeau for further discussions. This will be followed by the signing of several agreements and the two leaders will then make remarks to the media.

There is considerable interest in whether Trudeau will make any fresh gesture to allay the concerns of his India hosts at the media interaction. He had condemned violent extremism during his meeting with Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh.

For a leader who is so used to adulation during his overseas visits, Trudeau will probably be hoping that he can use his engagements with Modi and the top Indian leadership to conclude his visit on a note that overcomes or at least compensates for all the criticism and negative coverage he has received since he arrived in India.

First Published: Feb 23, 2018 09:27 IST