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Canada’s Punjabi community leader Deepak Obhrai dies at 69

Deepak Obhrai was first elected to Canada’s House of Commons in 1997, and re-elected ever since and was a sitting MP and was, in fact, preparing to face election for an eighth term during the Federal polls in October.

indians-abroad Updated: Aug 05, 2019 14:44 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Indo-Canadian politician Deepak Obhrai was  the first Hindu to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the longest-serving Conservative Party MP in that chamber.
Indo-Canadian politician Deepak Obhrai was the first Hindu to be elected to Canada’s House of Commons and the longest-serving Conservative Party MP in that chamber.(HT Photo )

Canada’s political fraternity, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor Stephen Harper, has reacted with shock and grief at the sudden demise of veteran Indo-Canadian politician Deepak Obhrai, the first Hindu to be elected to the country’s House of Commons and the longest-serving Conservative Party MP in that chamber.

Obhrai, 69, passed away on Friday in Calgary, in the province of Alberta, surrounded by the family, just weeks after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer. He is survived by his wife Neena, three children, and their families.

Obhrai was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997, and re-elected ever since and was a sitting MP and was, in fact, preparing to face election for an eighth term during the Federal polls in October.

Obhrai, who was born in Tanzania and had roots in Punjab, was a strong proponent of closer ties between India and Canada. He was founder-chair of the CanadaIndia Parliamentary Friendship Group and also organised Diwali celebrations in Parliament since 1998, making Canada the first western democracy to do so, Obhrai was honoured the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Indian government in 2009.

Trudeau expressed his condolences and described Obhrai as “a champion of diversity and human rights. He will be remembered for his dedication to the Indo-Canadian community and his hard work on behalf of Albertans and all Canadians.” Harper, under whom Obhrai served as parliamentary secretary in the foreign affairs department, said that his “legacy is his life-long commitment to Canada, which he served with energy and distinction wherever he went at home or abroad”.

Obhrai also ran for leadership of the Conservative Party in 2016 and the person who emerged victorious in that contest, Andrew Scheer, said he was “heartbroken” to hear of Obhrai’s passing.

Given his strong connection to organisations working within the India-Canada space, there was an outpouring of tributes from the community. Kasi Rao, president & CEO, Canada-India Business Council said: “We remember him for his tireless advocacy of many causes, including the championing for expanded economic relations with India.”