CANADIAN LEADER REFUTES MODI ‘SNUB’ CHARGE DURING VISIT
INDIAN prime minister Narendra Modi spoke out against separatism last Friday (23) in an apparent warning to his Canadian counterpart, whose week-long visit to India was marred by claims his administration is soft on Sikh extremists.
Standing next to Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, Modi said India would not tolerate those who sought to challenge its integrity.
“There should be no place for those who misuse religion for political motives and promote separatism,” Modi said. “We will not tolerate those who challenge the unity, integrity and harmony of our countries.”
Although he did not mention Sikhs by name, his words were seen as a clear reference to demands from some in the community for a separate homeland to be carved out of India.
Trudeau has been at pains during his visit to quash long-simmering perceptions in India that his Canada is a safe haven for Sikh extremists.
He visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest Sikh shrine, and later met Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and addressed the concerns of his hosts, the state leader said.
“I am very impressed with my meeting with the prime minister. I raised the issue of Khalistan, because that is our primary issue,” Singh said, adding he had received a categorical assurance from Trudeau.
“His words are a big relief to all of us here in India and we look forward to his government’s support in tackling fringe separatist elements,” he said in a tweet.
Canada is home to roughly half a million Sikhs and Trudeau’s administration has been accused of being too cosy with those who appear to back calls for independence.
Trudeau particularly riled New Delhi last year when he attended a parade in Canada at which Sikh militants were feted as heroes.
Last Thursday (22), he was forced to admit that a Sikh found guilty of trying to assassinate an Indian minister in 1986 had been invited to dine with him in New Delhi.
It was just one in a series of embarrassments that began the moment Trudeau and his family touched down on Indian soil.
Media reports were quick to point out that only a junior minister was deputed to meet the Canadian leader, interpreting that as a snub from Modi.
During his visit, Canada’s telegenic prime minister, who is more used to global adoration than approbation, has also faced criticism for his decision to dress in colourful Indian outfits.
In Mumbai last week, he even out-blinged Bollywood when he opted to wear a gold sherwani – traditional men’s wedding attire – at a movie event attended by top Indian actors, all of whom wore western clothing.
Trudeau’s trip, partly aimed at shoring up support for his Liberals among the politically important ethnic vote in key regions in Canada, was also criticised for being light on official government business.
Support from Canada’s large and concentrated south Asian community helped Trudeau’s Liberals gain power in 2015, and all three of Canada’s main parties – including the New Democratic Party, led by Jagmeet Singh –are courting the Indo-Canadian vote ahead of the 2019 election.
Trudeau last Tuesday (20) cited C$1 billion (£564 million) in deals between Canadian and Indian companies announced in Mumbai, and said the trip was “not just about political ties” but improving business and cultural bonds.
He also rejected suggestions that he was snubbed by Modi, who tweeted a welcome message last Thursday, on the eve of a bilateral meeting between the two, six days after the Canadian leader arrived in the country, saying: “I hope PM @JustinTrudeau and his family had a very enjoyable stay so far.” (AFP, Reuters)