Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met India’s corporate titans yesterday as he pursued a tour of the country marred by reports he has been snubbed by political leaders.
Trudeau addressed a business conference in Mumbai yesterday morning, attended by leaders from the Tata conglomerate, IT giants Infosys and pharmaceutical major Jubilant Life Sciences.
But Indian and Canadian media said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sidestepped his Canadian counterpart over the Trudeau administration’s perceived support for Sikh separatists and dealings with Sikh groups in Canada.
Canada is home to roughly half a million Sikhs and a significant number appear to back a decades-long Sikh campaign in Punjab for an independent homeland of Khalistan.
Trudeau was received by a junior minister when he arrived at New Delhi airport on Saturday and by district officials when he visited the historic Taj Mahal monument in Agra the next day.
Modi often meets leading heads of government at the airport with bear hugs and cheerful photo-ops.
He was again missing however when Trudeau visited Modi’s home state of Gujarat on Monday.
The social media-savvy Modi, who has 40.4mn Twitter followers, is also yet to tweet a welcome message to Trudeau as he does customarily for other leaders.
The prime minister shared a photo of himself meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani the same day that Trudeau landed.
“The Khalistan issue, which has kept India-Canada ties on ice through three decades from 1980, has resurfaced, taking away much of the warmth” during Trudeau’s visit, The Hindu daily said yesterday.
An Indian government source denied there was a snub in comments reported by several media outlets.
But Candice Malcolm, a columnist for the Toronto Sun newspaper, insisted that Trudeau has been given the “cold shoulder” by the Indian government.
India accuses Canadian administrations of backing separatist groups although Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, a Sikh, has publicly denied that his community was sympathetic to the Khalistan cause.
All four of Trudeau’s Indian-Canadian ministers are of Sikh origin.
Last April, Trudeau attended a Khalsa Day parade where Sikh militants who were killed in a bloody siege at Amritsar’s Golden Temple in 1984 were hailed as heroes.
Trudeau, who is to meet with Modi in New Delhi on Friday, will go to see the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, today.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he was looking forward to meeting Trudeau after reports initially suggested he would skip the meeting.
He failed to meet Sajjan when the Canadian minister visited the state last year.
Amrik Singh, who heads the UK-based Sikh Federation, a political group, accused India of giving Trudeau a cold reception because he was a close ally of Sikhs.
“This is showing India’s discomfort with the Canadian PM for having Sikhs in his cabinet who the Indian authorities are paranoid about.”
In Toronto, Canada’s first cabinet minister of Indian origin, Herb Dhaliwal, said the focus of Trudeau’s visit has been derailed by the Khalistan issue.
“It is very unfortunate that the media in India has overblown this Khalistan issue. This has shifted the focus away from trade – which is what the two countries should be discussing,” Dhaliwal, who in 1993 became the first Indian to be elected as an MP in the Western world, said.
Dhaliwal, who served as Canada’s minister for Revenue and Natural Resources from 1997 to 2003, said the sticking issue between the two countries is “about human rights and not Khalistan”.
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