Ahead of Justin Trudeau's India visit a controversy over Khalistanis

It’s typically Captain Amarinder Singh to take what may seem like a contentious position to many, and then stick to his guns.

 |  3-minute read |   17-02-2018
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Captain Amarinder Singh’s consistent refusal to engage with Sikh ministers within Canada’s federal government who were reported to have Khalistani leanings has forced the ministers to clarify their position. The denials by defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan and infrastructure minister Amarjit Sohi have been issued just days ahead of, and evidently prompted by, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first state visit to India later this month.

Reports in the Canadian media have quoted Sohi as saying that “he does not sympathise with the cause (Khalistan), nor does he hear much talk about it in the (Canadian) Sikh community.” Sajjan, who was refused an audience by the Punjab chief minister when he visited Chandigarh and Punjab last year (2017) because of his purported “Khalistani connections,” also refuted the charge as being “ridiculous.” The Canadian defence minister said in Ottawa: “I’ve been a police officer, I’ve served my country and any allegations like that is absolutely ridiculous and I find it extremely offensive as well.”

Reflecting the growing political influence of the Sikh community in Canada, as many as 16 MPs of Sikh origin were elected in the federal elections in 2015. But this has been accompanied by a visible proliferation of Khalistani separatists, who have reportedly been employing North American gurudwaras to continue fuelling demands for “liberating Punjab from Indian domination.” In fact, there have been worrying reports of Khalistanis forcibly preventing Indian representatives and officials from entering gurudwaras in Canada. Police and intelligence officials in Punjab claim that Canada-based Khalistanis and their sympathisers contribute the largest chunk of illegal hawala funding that is being used to try and revive the moribund separatist movement in Punjab.

Although Prime Ministers Trudeau and Narendra Modi appear to share a comfortable rapport and have met one-on-one on the sidelines of several international meetings, including most recently, the World Economic Forum at Davos, the free rein given to Khalistanis in Canada has cast a shadow on Trudeau's upcoming five-day visit. The trip, slated to focus on trade and cultural ties between the two countries, significantly includes a visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Commentators say, given that Indo-Canadians now number at 1.2 million, the India-Punjab visit could boost Trudeau’s prospects for re-election.

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Reportedly advised to make amends, Sohi has clarified his position: “If there is a small segment of people in Canada who talk about separation, who talk about the creation of Khalistan, if they do that in a peaceful way that is their right to do so but this is not an issue that I hear in the community,” the minister was quoted (in Canadian media) as having said in Ottawa. “From my point of view this is not an issue for the Canadian population, this is not an issue for the Indo-Canadian community within Canada, and I don’t feel it necessary to be engaging in something that is completely irrelevant from a Canadian’s point of view.”

Quick to respond, Amarinder welcomed the clarifications by Sajjan and Sohi. “I congratulate Prime Minister Trudeau for creating the necessary environment against secessionist forces believed to be operating from his country,” the chief minister said.

It’s typically Amarinder to take what may seem like a contentious position to many, and then stick to his guns. On a visit to Toronto during his earlier, 2002-2007, tenure as CM, Amarinder was accused of "hob-nobbing with Khalistanis". His rivals in the Shiromani Akali Dal quite literally went to town decrying his visit to a "Khalistani" gurudwara in Dixieland (Toronto). Local media in Punjab was flooded with pictures showing the chief minister standing below a "Khalistan Zindabad" banner while addressing a congregation inside the shrine.

Unperturbed, Amarinder called a news conference in Chandigarh. “Any gurudwara is the home of my Gurus and I reserve the right to go there. hanging up nonsensical banners doesn’t change that and I will never be deterred from going to any gurudwara,” he told visibly surprised reporters who had come expecting long, convoluted explanations, even an apology?

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: JNU compulsory attendance: Why must we deal with this farce?

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Asit Jolly Asit Jolly @asitjolly

Journalist with India Today magazine.

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