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Trudeau’s support for ‘one united India’ smoothens rough waters

Trudeau is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday.

world Updated: Feb 21, 2018 21:07 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in Amritsar on February 21, 2018.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in Amritsar on February 21, 2018.(PTI)

The dark clouds that have hovered over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to India have dispersed somewhat over the past 24 hours as he categorically expressed his support for “one united India”.

His meeting with Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in Amritsar has also seemed to smoothen things somewhat — Singh had earlier been a vocal critic of the Canadian government and has accused Trudeau of harbouring Khalistani sympathisers in his cabinet.

At a press conference in Mumbai, Trudeau spoke about “one united India” three times in two minutes. He said: “Canada has been unequivocal, both myself, all my ministers, our government, on our policy of one united India. We have been very strong on that and we’ll continue to be.”

This has been viewed positively by New Delhi ahead of the bilateral meeting between Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday. A senior Indian official described the developments as a “good reset”.

While the details of a joint statement by the two prime ministers are still being threshed out, sources said that the differences over the language in the text is close to being resolved. That will be the reference to violent extremism, without a direct mention of Khalistani separatists.

The optimism going ahead was voiced by former Indian high commissioner Vishnu Prakash. “Both sides are eagerly looking forward to bilateral official engagements on February 23, which I am confident will be positive, warm and forward-looking, in keeping with the texture and importance of India-Canada ties,” he said

Ujjal Dosanjh, former premier of the Canadian province of British Columbia and former Liberal federal cabinet minister, commended Trudeau and Singh for their “maturity” in putting aside the past for the meeting.

“I know Trudeau believes in the unity and integrity of India. That’s not the problem,” he said, adding that in his opinion, the statements and the Amritsar meeting with Singh “will go a long way” towards creating a positive environment for the visit going forward.

Shuvaloy Majumdar, former foreign policy advisor in the Canadian prime minister’s office, said: “I think government-to-government official relationships will be diplomatic and positive. India and Canada share values and interests and that transcends the political leadership of the day.”

The problem so far seems to have been caused by “poor scheduling”, as Trudeau travels around the country before arriving in New Delhi for official meetings, instead of the other way around. According to an Indian official, if the visit had kicked off with a ceremonial welcome and a warm reception from Modi, it would have changed the tenor, one Indian official felt.

Prakash agreed, as he said the controversy “was nothing more than a storm in a teacup, stemming essentially from the itinerary chosen by the Canadian side, and has naturally blown over”.

Both sides are invested in making the visit a “success”, sources said, and after the initial ruckus, the Canadian prime minister’s office has tasked itself with smoothing the path ahead to New Delhi, the sources said. That, of course, does not mean that the irritants in the relationship will not discussed but neither side wants that to dominate the atmospherics of the visit.