It is almost certain that if you search for ‘Modi’ on internet, you will come across scores of images showcasing his awkward hugs and handshakes with world leaders. You might remember how he left Prince William’s hand with visible marks after apparently a ‘strong’ hand shake or how he shoved Mark Zuckerberg to a side when Mark inadvertently stepped between the camera and PM Modi. Considering the aura and fan following that Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau carries across the world, one would have expected PM Modi to cash this opportunity and get some close-up portraits, but it dint happen. In fact, PM Modi did not even turn up to receive Justin Trudeau when he landed in India along with his wife and three children on Feb 17. On top of it, Modi dint feel necessary to send any of his senior colleagues but instead delegated a junior state minister to do so.
Did PMO office plan this deliberately to snub and disrespect Trudeau, PM of a G8 country? Did India overstep and will pay for this or has PM Modi chosen the right time to showcase the power that Indian state can wield?
This act of Modi government has left many observers bewildered but considering the latest events and happenings, it should have been anticipated. Modi government’s honeymoon period seems to have finally ended and the Indian electorate has started to express fatigue and restlessness. Multiple bye-poll losses in arguably the strongest BJP bastions, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have left the party think-tank extremely worried. The mess created by various reforms like demonetization, GST, Aadhaar and numerous scams namely the Rafael deal, PNB and more have re-enforced the lack of ‘Achhe Din’ in the voter’s psyche. The only ploy that still seems to be working for the party is ‘nationalism’. The way BJP was able to sell distress and discomfort caused by these reforms to the voter-base was by projecting it as a sacrifice for the greater good of the ‘nation’. Another popular craft often followed by BJP to stoke nationalism is by highlighting Jihadi and Khalistani terrorism.
This domestic policy of Modi government has a natural connection with Justin Trudeau and his government. Canada experienced a huge influx of Sikhs in 1980’s and 90’s, comprising mainly of innocents who were fleeing Punjab to avoid being framed and killed by the police gangs of KPS Gill and the likes. There were also some who escaped the law agencies in India after committing crimes of ‘revenge’. The hatred towards the Indian administration used to be conspicuous in the talks and demeanor of these new immigrants but with time passing by, most of them ‘moved on’ with their new Canadian lives. Those who could not, established organizations to keep the issues of Operation Bluestar and 1984 Sikh riots alive and since then have been vociferous supporters of Khalistan, a sovereign Sikh state potentially carved out of India. The Indian state consciously or not has been aiding the cause of these organizations by delaying justice to the Sikh victims, 33 years and counting.
To solidify its nationalistic stance, Modi government has brought up the issue of Khalistan time and again with Canadian authorities. Modi wants Trudeau to curb and rein in on any voice that is raised against India’s sovereignty and has termed the lack of this as Trudeau’s tacit support to anti-India voices in Canada. Interestingly enough, it does not end here. In general, the rise of Sikh politicians on foreign lands has made Sangh affiliated bodies uncomfortable from decades now, because these politicians do not fit the ideal caricature and image that RSS would like somebody of an Indian descent to project. This was observed in full public glare when RSS-backed bodies in Canada openly campaigned against Jagmeet Singh, the Canadian politician who eventually won the leadership race and now heads NDP, the third largest national party of Canada.
Canada on the other hand is known world-wide as a state that backs ‘freedom of expression’ in principle and practice alike. While maintaining the strong commitment of supporting and wishing for a united India, Canada keeps reinforcing the fact that peaceful and non-violent protests will never be curbed by Canadian authorities. This categorical refusal to heed to Indian demands and the rise of Sikh prowess in Canadian parliament have been instrumental in Modi not ‘cozy’ing up with Trudeau on his India visit.
Sikhs form a formidable part of Canadian population and more so in 3 provinces, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. They tend to vote in blocks and because they are concentrated in certain areas, they hold the power to sway around 20 Parliament constituencies. Justin Trudeau can not be asked to appreciate this fact more, he already has 4 Sikh MPs in his cabinet and he clearly recognizes the importance of keeping the Sikh electorate close. What has changed in last few months is the rise of Jagmeet Singh, who will be fighting Trudeau in 2019 elections and is a charismatic young Sikh leader with the potential to dent Trudeau’s Sikh base. Out of the three major political parties of Canada, Trudeau’s Liberals and Singh’s NDP often fight over the anti-Conservative vote base.
Trudeau could not have timed his India visit better. Him being sidelined and snubbed by Modi for being close to Sikhs has strengthened his Sikh vote base back home and social media is already filled with bravado posts calling him ‘Sardar Justin Singh Trudeau’, ‘Sher-e-Punjab’ and more. To make it even better for himself, Trudeau has been successful to do so without publicly rebuking the Indian side. He can be seen enjoying his India trip, putting up more than a happy face and has signed bilateral deals worth $1 billion, creating 5800 new jobs back home.
Canadian and world media has been following Trudeau’s visit closely enough to notice the irregularities. Major news channels in Canada like CBC, Global and others have reported and questioned the cold-shouldering while the conservative leaning media houses have termed the Indo-Canadian relations to have hit ‘rock-bottom’. Many international channels like CNN and Al-Jazeera have also judged Modi government’s behavior as a ‘snub’.
In the end, either due to a well-planned propaganda by the BJP or due to ignorant speculation by the Indian media, Justin Trudeau is all over India’s news space, be it print or digital. Though, the left and right of Indian intelligentsia is conveniently thrashing him and hailing the stance of Indian authorities, Trudeau will surely fly out of India with a wider smile than he arrived with.