“Inappropriate” for Indian diplomats to interfere in Carabram: Foreign affairs minister

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The issue over a separate Punjab pavilion at Brampton’s popular Carabram festival last year provoked outrage among many in the South Asian diaspora who believed that it went against the spirit of a united India.

This week Chyrstia Freeland’s spokesman in an email to a media outlet had this to say: “Interference in domestic affairs by foreign representatives in Canada is inappropriate. The federal government has no role in planning Carabram, but supports the right of its organizers to do so however they see fit.”

In fact, last year in the midst of this brewing controversy, Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey first raised the issue with Freeland and forwarded a letter sent to her by the Consulate General of India.
Apparently, officials with the Consulate General in Toronto approached organizers of Carabram to cancel the Punjab pavilion, or merge it with the India pavilion. She also alleges that consular officials tried to pressure organizers to change the name from Punjab pavilion to Punjabi cultural pavilion. That plea got nowhere.

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However, Pritpal Chaggar, grandfather of Bardish Chaggar, who is the chair of the Punjab pavilion says, this decision to have a separate Punjab venue was taken to better display and showcase Punjabi culture which was hard to do in an India pavilion.

The reason why there was and continues to be a level of opposition to having a Punjab Pavilion has to do with the sensitivity around separation and the talk of Khalistan which has been in the news this year.

Many believe that if Carabram is a festival of cultures and not countries, then the Punjab Pavilion should be renamed Punjabi Pavilion which would then refer to the culture and not the region.
Carabram has faced a similar controversy back in 2013, over its Ealam (Tamil) pavilion.

Mahinda Gunasekera, then honorary president of the Sri Lanka United National Association of Canada, urged the board not to legitimize the word “Ealam” by allocating a pavilion to the Canadian-Tamils. He suggested a compromise. Why not call it “Sri Lankan Tamil pavilion,” he wrote. The organizers didn’t oblige.

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Angela Johnson, president of Carabram, in a media report pointed out that it was up to the non-profit groups in charge of pavilions to determine how they would celebrate.

This year the issue of Punjab pavilion is back in the news with a vengeance, especially since Foreign Minister Freeland pointed to Indian interference in a Canadian festival being unacceptable. It would seem to some like a pattern of Indian interference coming on the heels of another issue being discussed in parliament.

A senior government official suggested faction within the Indian government were involved in sabotaging the prime minister’s visit to India.

In a briefing arranged by the PMO, he suggested that Atwal’s presence was arranged by factions within the Indian government who want to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from getting too cozy with a foreign government they believe is not committed to a united India.

Few South Asians are prepared to go on record about their views on the Punjab Pavilion but the basic consensus is that if every state in India were to showcase its own pavilion, the organizers would be forced to put a stop to it. Off the record, one person said what if the people of Baluchistan decided that they wanted their culture showcased in a pavilion?

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But the basic issue really is that if Carabram is all about culture and cuisine and not so much about countries and geography, then perhaps it should be renamed Punjabi Pavilion. This compromise would go a long way in bringing together the community which seems to be tearing apart over these sorts of issues.

But given the charged atmosphere and tense climate, it is apparent that this is an issue that has been tainted by politics. As a consequence, Freeland’s remarks about Indian diplomats’ interference will echo in New Delhi and could have an effect on Canada-India ties in the years to come. – CINEWS

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