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Leaders extend support but Canada PM Justin Trudeau skips Khalsa Parade

The Khalsa Day Parade had posters featuring Bhindranwale, considered the founder of the Khalistan movement, and floats in memory of the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

world Updated: Apr 30, 2018 23:38 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Canada PM,Justin Trudeau,Khalsa parade
Khalistan flags and separatist placards were prominently visible at the nagar kirtan in Toronto on Sunday.

Justin Trudeau skipped the annual Khalsa Day Parade in Toronto on Sunday, a year after he riled the Indian government by becoming the first Canadian Prime Minister in a decade to appear at the event, which is marked by a profusion of Khalistan flags and separatist banners and posters featuring those like Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

However, even if Trudeau stayed away, the focus that emerged from his troubled visit to India in February, on how Canada is serving as a base for revival of the Khalistan movement, did not prevent a galaxy of the country’s leading politicians from appearing at the nagar kirtan, just as they had done in the Surrey Vaisakhi celebration in British Columbia last week.

Among them was New Democratic Party (NDP) national leader Jagmeet Singh, who was present at both events. In Toronto, he took the opportunity for some India bashing while speaking, alleging that human rights violations in India were similar to those in Syria and those against the Rohingya in Myanmar.

Khalistan flags and separatist placards were prominently visible at the nagar kirtan in Toronto on Sunday.

Singh has faced criticism over associating with separatist events in recent times and his presence at the Surrey event was never announced, nor did he mark it on social media. But he was at the forefront in Toronto.

As Khalistan flags fluttered and several people held up banners for a 2020 referendum for a separate Sikh homeland, Ontario’s premier Kathleen Wynne also addressed the gathering. The Khalsa Day Parade had posters featuring Bhindranwale, considered the founder of the Khalistan movement, and floats in memory of the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi.

In Surrey last week, Wynne’s counterpart in British Columbia, John Horgan, had made an appearance, even as the Vaisakhi celebration featured floats for the 2020 referendum and honoured “martyrs” such as Bhindranwale.

Trudeau’s government was also well represented in the Khalsa Day Parade, with cabinet minister Navdeep Bains speaking from the stage. Trudeau was scheduled to be in Toronto later in the evening to attend a #TorontoStrong vigil for those run over by a van during a rampage on April 23.

However, he chose to bypass Nathan Phillips Square in downtown Toronto, the venue for the nagar kirtan.

A senior Indian official described that as “some improvement”, though the tone was cynical, reflecting how relations between the two countries have broken down over the Khalistan issue. As for the parade of Canadian politicians at the events, the official said it seemed like “business as usual”.

A host of MPs and local politicians were present. They had similarly thronged the Surrey event, even though that was organised by Dashmesh Durbar gurdwara, where the “mastermind” of the 1985 Air India flight 182 bombing, Talwinder Singh Parmar, continues to be memorialised.

The Surrey Now Leader, a local publication, reported several legislators, led by a provincial minister, spoke from the main stage there, as a banner reading Khalistan Zindaabad was prominently placed behind them.

Khalistan flags and separatist placards were prominently visible at the nagar kirtan in Toronto on Sunday.

Proponents of Khalistan were also out in force in Toronto, many of them supporters of the 2020 referendum, which is spearheaded by the hardline activist group Sikhs For Justice.

Referring to the turnout of leaders at the nagar kirtan, SFJ’s legal advisor Gurpatwant Pannun said, “It’s not India’s place to direct Canadian political leaders where they can go.” He said these politicians used the opportunity to interact with the Sikh community and “they do respect freedom of expression of Canadian Sikhs who are seeking referendum”.

Trudeau may have been absent from the Toronto event, but pandering to separatists by politicians across parties is still very much present in Canada.

First Published: Apr 30, 2018 23:37 IST