Justin Trudeau got everything wrong The Statesman 19 Sep 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar



Justin Trudeau got everything wrong The Statesman 19 Sep 2023

          The recently concluded G20 summit was India’s day all the way. Its success buoyed India’s global reputation and showcased its diplomatic prowess by having the final outcome document approved by all members, a rarity in the G20, where differences between blocs ends in a chair summary. India also displayed its levels of proximity with participating nations.

One of the reasons why Xi Jinping did not attend was because he knew that there would neither be a bilateral nor a pull aside with PM Modi. The indifference to his representative Li Qiang was evident. There was, apart from the mandatory handshake with the Chinese PM in a welcome, nothing of significance.

The other leader who overestimated his standing was Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Prior to arriving in India, Trudeau had stated from Singapore, ‘It is incredibly important that we continue to protect Canadians from any and all types of interference,’ accusing India of interfering in Canadian elections. He hoped to raise this subject with PM Modi, despite no bilateral being announced.

Trudeau seemed to have forgotten his disastrous 8-day visit in 2018 where he was ignored till almost the end. The PM only tweeted welcoming Trudeau at the last moment. Trudeau was received by a MoS, who was not a member of the cabinet, a message of snub. The then Punjab CM, Amarinder Singh, met him only after the Canadian embassy assured him that Ottawa will act against Sikh extremist groups. Things went downhill when Jaspal Atwal, a Sikh extremist was invited by the Canadian embassy to a dinner honouring Trudeau.  

Trudeau himself had to resort to firefighting to salvage the visit by cancelling the invite to Jaspal Atwal. The damage had been done. While the government did adopt laid down protocols including a formal reception at the Rashtrapati Bhawan and a meeting with the PM, there were no major outcomes. The entire visit was a waste of taxpayers’ funds as the Trudeau family visited tourist hotspots and posed for photographs rather than engage in worthwhile diplomacy.

This time too frostiness was evident. He was the second head of state not to be welcomed by a tweet, the other being Li Qiang, nor a bilateral accepted. Even photographs of the two PMs displayed coldness. The MEA summary of the pull aside meeting (as compared to a bilateral with others) indicated a slap on the wrist. It mentioned, ‘He (PM Modi) conveyed our strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada. They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship.’

Trudeau was left to defend himself in a press conference where he mentioned that Canada will always defend ‘freedom of expression, freedom of conscience and peaceful protest.’ He added, ‘at the same time we are always there to push back against hatred.’ While he did state that he raised possible Indian interference in Canadian politics with PM Modi, there was no mention of it in the Indian handout.

Trudeau’s statements lose their sincerity when comparing his crackdown on the truckers’ peaceful protests in Feb last year. He termed them ‘illegal and dangerous activities,’ adding, ‘they are a threat to our economy and relationship with trading partners. They are a threat to public safety.’

The truckers’ peaceful and silent protests were considered illegal, publicly threatening diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises as also Hindu places of worship are considered freedom of expression and peaceful. How does Trudeau justify employing strong arm tactics against Canada’s indigenous Wet’suwet’en population, peacefully protesting the construction of a gas pipeline or against those protesting against his policies. 

Another aspect which must be taken up by the Indian government is the Canadian embassy seeking confidential details of service locations, alongside visa applications, for ex-members of security forces. In case of service in J and K, on occasions, visas are denied. These are discriminatory and against global norms.

Ironically, while the two PMs were discussing in Delhi, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a banned organization, was conducting a referendum on Khalistan in Surrey, Ontario, with their leader, a designated terrorist, Gurpatwant Pannun, spewing venom against the Indian government. While the referendum was a failure, like others before it, the fact that it was permitted damaged Indo-Canadian ties. Canada’s legitimizing Khalistani’s has blocked stalled Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks.

The SFJ has demanded the closure of the Indian embassy in Ottawa as retaliation for the sidelining of Trudeau in Delhi. In July, in a deploring incident, the Canadian government permitted a tableau depicting the assassination of former PM Indira Gandhi as part of a parade marking the launch of Operation Bluestar, claiming it did not constitute a hate crime.

The ignoring of Trudeau in Delhi was so visible that Pierre Poilievre, the leader of the Canadian Opposition, tweeted, ‘Putting partisanship aside, no one likes to see a Canadian prime minister repeatedly humiliated and trampled upon by the rest of the world.’ When asked by a reporter, in his Delhi press conference, on what was Canada’s contribution to the G20, Trudeau fumbled for words. As per Canadian media, he was not present for the formal dinner hosted by the President, for which no reason was assigned.  

Delhi is aware that Trudeau is in power with support from the New Democratic Party (NDP), headed by known Khalistani backer, Jagmeet Singh. Trudeau’s comments supporting the farmers agitation and the arrest of Amritpal Singh, is a fallout of his internal political dependency. 

In a G20 designed for diplomacy and in India, whose stature and economy are rising rapidly, Trudeau was rudely snubbed. His ruling NDP partner Jagmeet Singh and pro-Khalistani members of his cabinet can never set foot in India. This is the state of the current Canadian leadership. With Canada heading for recession, it needs India more than Delhi needs Ottawa.       

Fate intervened adding to Trudeau’s discomfiture. His aircraft developed a snag at the time of departure, extending his stay in India by another two days. Trudeau is singlehandedly responsible for deteriorating ties between India and Canada. At the end of the day, Indo-Canadian ties and the FTA will be determined by how Ottawa handles Khalistani’s.