By Vipul Gupta
In a bid to satisfy their Sikh populations, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have been pushing themselves into an unconventionally awkward situation. With Canadian politicians eyeing their 1.4 percent Sikh population, Indian ‘netas’ too are fighting for a 1.7 percent Indian Sikh population, which directly gives them 13 parliamentary seats. Amidst all this, Justin Trudeau, who is on a seven-day trip to India, seems to be struggling to find a common political ground with PM Modi and the Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh.
In the early 1980s, India saw a massive rise in militancy in the state of Punjab. The primary demand of these militants was an independent nation, Khalistan, for the Sikh community of India. Soon, equipped with modern arms and ammunition, the Bhindranwale-led Khalistan Movement started occupying strategic positions in Punjab, including its holiest pilgrimage site, the Golden Temple. Within days, India lost its sitting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, when her Sikh bodyguards assassinated her due to the military-led Operation Bluestar that she had ordered. Her death led to targeted riots against Sikhs across the nation.
The demand for a separate Khalistan might have died in India after the Operation Bluestar and the resulting riots, but the pro-Khalistani movements have been continuously finding voices in Canada and the UK. Recently, two of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers were branded as Khalistan supporters by Punjab’s Chief Minister, and to fuel things up, PM Trudeau himself was seen at an event where pro-Khalistan slogans were raised. Since then, the Indian government has been raising this issue with its Canadian counterpart but a public apology is something that Prime Minister Trudeau cannot afford to give.
During his longest foreign trip ever that started on 17th February, Justin Trudeau is trying hard to ensure that this visit of his doesn’t get branded as a “family trip.” Though it is quite evident that with time, this diplomatic rift between the two nations is widening, it still seems as if Canadians pushed for Justin’s visit when India wasn’t even ready to bury the hatchet.
The strategy of Trudeau to deal with this situation appears to be a simple one. Go to India, praise their culture, make his kids and wife click several ‘namaste’ photographs, let the media talk about India’s coldness, give several keynotes and wait for India to respond. However, is it working? Quite surprisingly, yes! He has been successful, as of now, in creating pressure on the Indian government to respond to the media reports. As a result, Chief Ministers of two important states, Maharashtra and Punjab, have agreed to host the Canadian Prime Minister.
More importantly, by his fourth day in India, he has been able to secure a billion dollar investment deal, which is expected to increase the bilateral trade between India and Canada. As he proceeds towards the final leg of his India trip, it is evident that the Indian side has begun to tighten its belt for real diplomatic talks. Both the parties are now looking to sign a ‘Free Trade’ deal when the two Prime Ministers meet in New Delhi on the coming Thursday and all of this without a formal apology from the Canadian government.
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