Canadian Minister of Defence and Liberal politician, Harjit Sajjan, who is one of the four Sikh cabinet members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is set to arrive in India on April 17th. Punjab Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh, has recently accused him of being a “Khalistan supporter” and refused to meet the latter despite the Canadian High Commission calling his accusing remarks “disappointing and inaccurate”. Here is what you need to know about Sajjan.
Harjit Sajjan was elected as Member of Parliament from Vancouver South in British Columbia on October 19, 2015. His nomination had been backed by prominent Sikh leaders of the World Sikh Organization (WSO) which led a large number of Punjabi-Sikh Liberals (nearly 4000) from British Columbia to quit the party in protest. The resigning contingent had alleged that the Liberal Party was being “hijacked” and Trudeau “manipulated” by fundamentalist Sikhs under the banner of the WSO.
The WSO, a Sikh Advocacy Group of Canada, has long been associated with the movement for the creation of an independent Sikh state of Khalistan out of Punjab and was at the centre of the controversy over Liberal nominations for the 2015 federal elections. Harjit Sajjan’s parents, Kundan Singh Sajjan and Vidya Kaur Sajjan, were reportedly active, long term members of the organisation then. The organization however calls itself a non-partisan that does not back political candidates. Trudeau had said then that those who missed the nomination were complaining, while Sajjan denied having any other agenda other than serving the Canadian people and rubbished the allegation that he had any links to WSO at the time.
“I don’t support the breakup of any country. I’m a Canadian. I want to focus on Canadian issues”, Sajjan had said in a statement to the Vancouver Sun.
Prior to entering politics, Sajjan has had a decorated career as a police officer and as a combat veteran. He was a member of the Vancouver Police Department for 11 years, based primarily in South Vancouver, where he completed his career as a detective with the gang crime unit. He took a break from the Police service to join the British Columbia Regiment of the Canadian Army in 1989 as a trooper and from there, rose to the position of Lieutenant-Colonel.
As a reserve Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces and a member of the British Columbia Regiment, he participated in four operational deployments – one to Bosnia-Herzegovina and three in Kandahar, Afghanistan. In September 2011, he also became the first Sikh to command any Canadian Army regiment – his British Columbia Regiment. For his service, he has received glowing praise and awarded several military honours by the Canadian government, including the Meritorious Service Medal in 2013 for reducing the Taliban’s influence in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, and the Order of Military Merit in 2014.
Sajjan, who was born in Bombeli village in Hoshiarpur District of Punjab, was a five-year-old when he came to Vancouver with his older sister and mother in 1976. His father, Kundan Singh, had been a police officer in India who immigrated to Canada when Sajjan was two and returned three years later to shift his family to Vancouver with him. His India visit is likely to include a stopover by the native village, where he has been twice before, according to the Hindustan Times.
Sajjan is married to Dr Kuljit Kaur Sajjan, a UBC trained family physician, and has two children.