PM Trudeau’s India visit raises eyebrows around the world

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Almost since the day PM Justin Trudeau and his family touched down on their first official visit to India, the PM has made news for all the wrong reasons. The national and international media have featured stories that have raised eyebrows around the world.

Right from the get-go were the allegations that PM Trudeau had Khalistani sympathizers in his cabinet, barely had PM Trudeau addressed those concerns and reiterated his commitment to a unified India, headlines blared about Vancouver-based Jaspal Atwal, a convicted former member of an illegal Sikh separatist group, who was invited to dine with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a formal event hosted by the Canadian High Commissioner Thursday in Delhi.

The invitation, which was extended by Canada’s High Commissioner to India, was rescinded only after CBC News asked the Prime Minister’s Office about it.

Then there was the tweet from Kashmir politician Omar Abdullah saying: Is it just me or is this choreographed cuteness all just a bit much now? Also, FYI we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood.

At a meeting with representatives of the Indian Film industry, the media pointed out that PM Trudeau wore a sherwani while Mrs. Trudeau draped a beautiful off-white sari while Bollywood stars like Shah Rukh Khan were dressed in western jackets and slacks.

The latest news to break was about Vancouver-based celebrity chef Vikram Vij, well-known Liberal supporter, who was flown down to New Delhi to cook up a storm for top diplomats for a reception at the residence of the Canadian High Commissioner on Thursday.

Amritsar more important than New Delhi

Underlining the significance of the large and influential Sikh and Punjabi community settled in his country, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accompanied by his wife and children, offered prayers at the Golden Temple on Wednesday.

Dressed in traditional Indian clothes and their heads covered, the Trudeau family bowed before the holy book of the Sikhs and tried their hand at making chapatis at the ‘langar’ as they spent over an hour at the holiest of Sikh shrines.

Trudeau, who later met Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh in a hotel in Amritsar, said that his country did not support any separatist movement in India or elsewhere.

“Citing the separatist movement in Quebec, Trudeau said he had dealt with such threats all his life and was fully aware of the dangers of violence, which he had always pushed back with all his might,” Chief Minister’s Media Advisor Raveen Thukral disclosed after their 40-minute meeting.

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Amarinder Singh thanked Trudeau for his explicit stand on a united India.

He also handed over a list of nine Canada-based operatives alleged to be involved in hate crimes in Punjab by financing and supplying weapons for terrorist activities and engaged in trying to radicalize youth and children here.

The Punjab Chief Minister also raised the issue of Indo-Canadians, believed to be involved in targeted killings in the state, urging him to initiate stern action against such elements.

Pointing out that trade and commerce relations between the two were very low at the moment, he urged Trudeau to take steps to push investment by Canadian businesses in Punjab. The two leaders agreed to collaborate through joint projects.

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and Punjab Local Government Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu were also present at the meeting.

Earlier, Trudeau and his family landed at the Sri Guru Ram Dass Jee International Airport here, where they were received by Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri and Sidhu and headed straight for the Golden Temple complex to offer prayers.

Accompanied by five Canadian federal ministers, Trudeau was received at its entrance by Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee president Gobind Singh Longowal, Shiromani Akali Dal President Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal.

Wearing an off-white embroidered kurta-pyjama and head covered with a “kesari” (saffron) headscarf, Trudeau entered the complex with wife Sophie, who was wearing a light turquoise kurta and white palazzo and their children, who were also wearing traditional Indian outfits to loud slogans of “Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal”.

The Trudeaus first went to the “Langar Hall”, where thousands of devotees partake langar (community food) and do “sewa” and sat on small stools to knead flour and roll chapatis.

The Canadian Prime Minister also did “parikarma” before entering the sun-soaked and glittering all-gold sanctum sanctorum. The family bowed before the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy book that is considered as a living guru.

The Trudeaus were given “Siropa” (traditional robe of honour) by the head priest inside the shrine.

Trudeau also visited the Partition Museum here.

Tight security was in place in and around Amritsar for Trudeau’s visit. Government security agencies and SGPC volunteers formed a tight security ring around him.

Besides the Trudeau-Amarinder meeting, which had remained uncertain till Monday evening, the other highlight was the Chief Minister meeting Sajjan, who was born in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district and is the first Sikh to handle the defence portfolio of a western country.

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Amarinder Singh had refused to meet him during the latter’s visit to the state in April last year and even dubbed him and other ministers of Punjab-origin in the Trudeau government as “Khalistani sympathisers”.

On Wednesday, the Chief minister not only met Sajjan but also shook hands with him and both leaders smiled at each other, while the Amarinder Singh government went all out to accord a red-carpet welcome to Trudeau and his entourage.

Many stories in the Indian media point to what seems to be quite obvious- Amritsar is more important than New Delhi for not just PM Justin Trudeau, but for all Canada’s politicians. One media report noted that since 2003, every Canadian Prime Minister, bar one, has paid obeisance at the Sikh holy city when on a state visit to India. And this has a lot to do with the Sikh population base in Canada.

By percentage of population, the number of Sikhs in Canada is almost the same as that of Sikhs in India.

Sikhs comprise 1.5 percent of Canada’s population. And in India, Sikhs make up 1.72 per cent of the country’s total population.

The media reports in India also points to the well-known fact that the current Liberal cabinet headed by PM Trudeau has more Sikhs in his cabinet than Prime Minister Narendra Modi has. A quip by PM Trudeau that created ripples thousands of kilometres away.

In fact, Canada has “the world’s most Sikh cabinet”, as the Washington Post described it in a November 2015 article. As NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh is also one of the prominent opposition leaders in Canada.

Many stories in the Indian media point to what seems to be quite obvious- Amritsar is more important than New Delhi for not just PM Justin Trudeau, but for all Canada’s politicians.

A ‘family vacation’

Many Canadians view PM Trudeau’s visit to India with his wife and three kids as more of a family vacation rather than an official one. In an interview with a Canadian broadcaster, Aaron Wudrick, the director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said the trip was damaging Mr. Trudeau’s image.

“When the only thing people see is family pictures … that is a problem for his image,” Mr. Wudrick said.

“This is a symbol of concern for regular Canadians who say, ‘I pay my taxes and am struggling and the first thing in the morning I see is the Prime Minister and his family in front of the Taj Mahal.

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“A week is a long time for a PM to spend visiting one country, and a half of a day out of eight is very little official business.”

A report by Canada’s national broadcaster said Mr. Trudeau’s India visit looked more like a “family vacation” than a diplomatic exercise.

Meanwhile news reports around the world all have one common headline about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau being snubbed by the Indian Government on his first state visit to the country.

They point to the fact that PM Justin Trudeau met with Indian PM Narendra Modi toward the end of his visit and that he was welcomed at the airport not by PM Modi but by a junior agricultural minister.

The lukewarm reception is reportedly due to concerns over Mr. Trudeau’s perceived soft approach to Sikh extremist groups.

By contrast, Mr. Modi himself was on the tarmac to greet and bear-hug Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he visited last month.

Furthermore PM Mr. Modi who is known to send out a customary tweet welcoming Mr. Trudeau to the nation failed to do so, neither did he accompany PM Trudeau on his visit to Gujarat.

In comments to the media however, Mr. Trudeau strongly rejected suggestions that Canada was encouraging Sikh extremism, saying Canada’s position of supporting “one united India” had not changed.

Mr. Trudeau has met with by Indian tech companies like Tech Mahindra, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, finalising investment deals.

“We welcomed over $1 billion worth of commercial contracts and agreements,” Mr. Trudeau said.

“This will lead to the creation of more than 5,800 good Canadian jobs.”

While most headlines have been negative and certainly far from flattering, one headline stands out. Trudeau’s tour of India branded ‘slow-moving train wreck’. Commentators are struggling to make something of this visit.

It is unfair to say nothing has come out of this multi-million dollar visit to India by PM Trudeau and family because it helps advertising India as a tourist destination and it will certainly boost the fortunes of all those designers who catered to the sartorial tastes of our PM and his family and chef Vikram Vij who catered at an official Canadian reception in India. International fashion magazines spread will no doubt paint PM Trudeau’s India visit in a flattering light and give the family full marks when it comes to fashion sense. -CINEWS


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