In what is turning out to be a massive public relations disaster for the visiting Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, it has now emerged that a Canada-based Khalistani activist, convicted in the attempted murder of a Punjab Minister in 1986 was invited to two events organized for Trudeau, in Mumbai and in Delhi.
As photographs of Canadian PM’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, and one of the Canadian ministers, emerged which showed them with Jaspal Atwal, a known Khalistani activist, at a reception in Mumbai, the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi on Thursday said that they have rescinded the invitation to the reception in Delhi.
Atwal was convicted of attempted murder in 1987, after shooting Malkiat Singh Sidhu, who at the time was visiting family on Vancouver Island. He is a former member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), a pro-Khalistani outfit that was banned in Canada and designated a terrorist organization in 2003. While Atwal was seen with the Canadian official delegation, questions about his presence in India remain unanswered — as to how he entered India after having been convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian politician.
This latest incident stirred a fresh controversy on Trudeau’s ongoing visit, which is being perceived to be cold-shouldered by the Indian government. Trudeau’s Liberal party-ruled Canadian government has been perceived to be kowtowing with the pro-Khalistan sections of the Sikh community in Canada. New Delhi has been peeved with the Trudeau government’s approach.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not accompanied Trudeau during the Gujarat visit, whereas he had accompanied three visiting world leaders, Japan PM Shinzo Abe, Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the last three-and-half years. He has also not yet sent a welcome tweet for the visiting Canadian PM’s visit, as has been customary in the past.
While he did not receive Trudeau at the airport, the Ministry of External Affairs has maintained that such a departure from the protocol is done with a few exceptions. In the last three-and-half years, Modi has gone to the airport to receive only about half-a-dozen times – Abe, Netanyahu, US President Barack Obama, Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina and the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. However, there have been more than 100 visits by leaders from across the world.
Trudeau’s ongoing visit, with his family, has been photographed almost every step of the way, as they have travelled to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, to Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Amritsar and now in Delhi. However, only junior ministers from the Union government have received him so far.
While all this has been seen as India’s indifferent approach to express its displeasure over his party’s outreach towards pro-Khalistan elements in the Canadian Sikh community – a sizeable vote bank, Trudeau – during his meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is understood to have assured that Canada does not support any separatist movement in India or elsewhere. Singh has been one of the most vocal about the pro-Khalistan moorings of Trudeau’s government.
With all this in the backdrop, it is important for Trudeau to realise that playing with the Khalistan sections – as he was seen in April last year on a pro-Khalistan platform in Canada – is going to take away from the more substantive elements of the relationship. One can expect now that this will figure in his bilateral conversations between Trudeau and Modi, and it will take the Canadian PM a whole lot of courage to dissociate from his politics back home – or else, the relationship with India may suffer.