February 17, 2018 | By Gurjeet Singh
by: Gurjeet Singh*
Sikhs in Canada and other parts of the globe have been in private communications directly and indirectly with the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau and some of the Sikh Ministers and Liberal MPs accompanying him before his week-long trip to India that begins tomorrow on 17 February.
Trudeau will be accompanied by his four Sikh Ministers – Harjit Singh Sajjan (defence), Navdeep Singh Bains (innovation, science and economic development), Amarjit Singh Sohi (infrastructure and communities) and Bardish Kaur Chagger (small business and tourism), who is also the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and a number of other Sikh MPs.
As far as the worldwide Sikh community is concerned the peak of Trudeau’s visit to India is when he is in Punjab and the Sri Harmandir Sahib Complex on 21 February with his 35-member media delegation from Canada.
The Chief Minister of Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh who last year accused all Sikh Ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet of being Khalistani sympathisers and refused to meet Defence Minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan will face a major dilemma by being seen to make a U-turn.
Every word Trudeau speaks about the experience of the minority Sikh community in India when he visits the Sikh homeland will be closely watched and dissected by Sikhs not only in Canada, but other parts of the globe.
Privately and publicly there is no doubt the Indian authorities and media will challenge Trudeau on his perceived backing or otherwise for those campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland, Khalistan.
They will also try and get his views on the recent restrictions imposed by Gurdwara management committees in Canada on Indian government officials where he will no doubt have a carefully prepared response.
How Trudeau responds to questions about Sikhs in Canada could determine his political future as he will be conscious that his Conservative predecessor Stephen Harper in his November 2012 visit to India pushed back strongly when challenged by the Indian media.
Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper said merely advocating for a Khalistan homeland was not a crime and should not be confused with the right of Canadians to hold and promote their political views. He added that “we can’t interfere with the right of political freedom of expression.”
It will also not be lost on India that Canada, alongside Italy and Pakistan are leading a counter-proposal at the UN to have more non-permanent members that in essence is designed to stop India and others becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council.
There is no doubt Trudeau will need to walk a fine line during his India visit given the media hype of him being a close ally of the Sikhs. The fact that economic trade between Canada and India is relatively small will help Trudeau stand up to pressure from New Delhi during his visit given the line taken by his Conservative predecessor.
Trudeau also knows next year he will be up against Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who will have most to gain if Trudeau fails to at least go as far as Stephen Harper in defending the rights of Sikhs in Canada to be able to highlight the atrocities by the Indian authorities i.e. the failure to release Sikh political prisoners who have served their terms and have the freedom to advocate for Khalistan.
Another human rights case that is certain to come up is the case of Jagtar Singh Johal where Liberal MPs have been vocal and the Canadian government has also officially raised concerns.
Trudeau is certain to face questions about the Sikh Genocide motion passed by the Ontario Provincial Parliament last year that was led by politicians belonging to the his Liberal Party who have subsequently been promoted. He will come across as weak on a crucial human rights issue if he chooses to distance the Liberal Party at the federal level from those of his party at the provincial level.
Trudeau should address this challenge head on and point out the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in late December 2014 referred to what happened to the Sikhs in November 1984 as ‘Genocide’. He continued that ‘justice would be meted out to the victims only when the perpetrators of the crime are punished’ and ‘that until these persons are punished, victims will not get relief’.
It would also be an opportune moment for Trudeau to ask what the BJP government is doing to address the recent revelation of the sting operation that has exposed Congress politician Jagdish Tyler. He has now been heard confessing to the killing of over 100 Sikhs and separately implicated Rajiv Gandhi by disclosing the two toured the streets of Delhi during the peak of the Sikh Genocide.
* Author is National Press Secretary of the Sikh Federation UK, a UK based Sikh organisation.
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