Justin Trudeau’s painful India trip: Earful from Modi govt, criticism back in Canada

Sep 12, 2023 01:53 PM IST

Justin Trudeau remained stranded in New Delhi for two days after the plane he arrived on for the G20 Summit broke down.

While Justin Trudeau remained stranded for two days along with his country’s delegation, after attending the Group of 20 or G20 Summit in New Delhi, his plane-glitch drama only added to the Canadian Prime Minister's woes in his travels to India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival at Bharat Mandapam convention center for the G20 Summit, in New Delhi.(PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi welcomes Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon his arrival at Bharat Mandapam convention center for the G20 Summit, in New Delhi.(PTI)

Around 1pm on Tuesday, Trudeau and his delegation finally departed for Canada as the technical issue with his aircraft was resolved and it was cleared to fly, but not before he was given the cold shoulder in India and faced embarassment over the floundering plane. He left New Delhi hours after reports indicated that a backup plane and spare parts were en route to India for Trudeau.

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Canada had said the earliest possible departure from the national capital was Tuesday late afternoon and that the country's armed forces were continuing with their best efforts to bring them back home. In an e-mailed statement to news agency PTI, the Prime Minister's office said the Canadian Armed Forces continued their best efforts to get the delegation home.

The aircraft's technical issues were an inauspicious end to Trudeau's trip that included criticism from the Narendra Modi government over the pro-Khalistan activities in Canada.

On this trip, even before the plane breakdown, Trudeau had been publicly criticised by Prime Minister Modi for allegedly allowing the “anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada", a reference to Khalistan.

Modi govt criticises Justin Trudeau

Modi, during his meeting with his Canadian counterpart, raised “strong concerns” about the continuous “anti-India activities” by extremist elements in Canada, and stated that it is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats.

The ties between India and Canada saw deterioration, with Ottawa recently suspending negotiations on a trade treaty with New Delhi.

Political protests by Canada's large Sikh population are a flashpoint. Pro-Khalistan supporter Hardeep Singh Nijjar was shot dead by two masked gunmen in British Columbia in June. Khalistan separatists took to the streets of Toronto to protest the Indian government, which they believe is responsible for his death. The killing is still under investigation.

Trudeau’s national security adviser, meanwhile, has said that India is a major source of foreign meddling in Canada’s affairs. The two prime ministers did not hold a formal bilateral meeting at the summit, but in a brief conversation on the sidelines, Trudeau said the pair discussed foreign interference and “respect for the rule of law.”

Trudeau, 51, said the issues of Punjab separatists in Canada and Canadian concerns about Indian interference in its affairs have come up in his conversations with Modi over the years.

“Obviously Canada will always defend freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, peaceful protest. That’s something that’s extremely important to us. At the same time as we are always there to prevent violence, to push back against hatred,” he said a news conference in the Indian capital. “It’s important to remember that the actions of the few do not represent the entire community or Canada.”

Trudeau faces flaks back home

Back home, Trudeau’s travel delays also triggered a debate about the crumbling nature of Canada’s state infrastructure. The Airbus A310s that carry Trudeau and other top officials abroad date back to the 1980s and are badly showing their age.

They are so old they require refuelling stops for Trudeau’s trips to Asia, often with stopovers in Alaska and Japan before reaching their final destination.

Trudeau’s main opponent, leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre, attacked the PM for mismanagement. “Now Trudeau gets to experience the same flight delays he has imposed on Canadians through his mismanagement of federal airports,” he wrote on social media platform X

In another post, he said there is a little turbulence on the horizon. “But a new crew is on the way for the country we know and love. Let’s bring it home.” The reference was to a potential change in government in the 2025 federal elections. The ruling Liberal Party has been trailing the Conservatives in recent opinion polls by double-digit margins.

Justin Trudeau cold-shouldered in 2018

Trudeau got the cold shoulder from Indian ministers even during his first official visit to India in 2018. Despite plenty of photo opportunities, including at the Taj Mahal, Trudeau and his family's tour was largely ignored by senior members of the Indian government.

When he landed in New Delhi, he was received by a junior minister. Modi, in the past and later, personally received visiting government leaders. Modi met Trudeau at least two days after his arrival. Modi was also reportedly absent when Trudeau visited Gujarat.

Trudeau chose to stay in his hotel room

Trudeau chose to stay in his room in Lalit Hotel in New Delhi after his Airbus plane developed a snag. Trudeau did not have any engagement with the Indian government on Monday.

The ministry of external affairs confirmed that they had received no request for any other official engagements and the office of the minister of state who was assigned to receive Trudeau, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, also confirmed that his duty was simply to receive the Canadian PM at the airport on his arrival. There was also no indication of any engagements at the local high commission either.

“The Canadian Armed Forces continue their best efforts to get the Canadian delegation home,’’ said Mohammed Hussain, press secretary at the Prime Minister’s office, in reply to HT’s queries. “Their latest update shows an earliest possible departure of Tuesday late afternoon. The situation remains fluid.’’

And so, Trudeau spent the day in the hotel.

“Both he and his son stayed in,’’ said a person familiar with the details. The Prime Minister’s 16-year-old son, Xavier, was travelling with him, and accompanied him to Jakarta and also Singapore before flying into New Delhi. The Canadians and the Japanese booked most rooms at the Lalit, but now only about 30 of the rooms continue to be occupied by the PM’s core team and accompanying media.

“The flight plan for the ferry flight departing with the Prime Minister has not been received yet. However, the flight is expected to land at around 11pm on Monday and depart by Tuesday afternoon,” an airport official said. While the exact problem with the aircraft isn’t exactly known, the glitch has caused a bit of a controversy back home.

(With inputs from Sunetra Choudhury and Neha LM Tripathi in New Delhi)

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    Have 11 years' experience in print and digital media. Write on politics, defence and world affairs, and have a keen eye for human-interest stories.

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