You may have all seen the numerous photos of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family in flashy colourful Indian dresses, if not, then you’re probably living under a rock because it made news headlines around the world. These photos were taken in India, where the prime minister was embarked on an official diplomatic mission. But it wasn’t just the colorful dresses that made the news, it was the trip itself that many observers might have found peculiar. Why would that be, isn’t it normal for politician to go on diplomatic trips all over the globe? Well yes, it is, officially the trip was meant to further economic and business relation between Canada and India. However, this wasn’t any normal diplomatic trip, for many observers, it was more of a giant photo op for Justin Trudeau as he spent the first days of his trip visiting different sites such as the Taj Mahal and meeting with Bollywood stars. However, the weirdest part of the trip is how little time he spent with Indian officials, with only half a day out of the eight-day trip allocated to meeting with officials from the government of India. In fact, the Prime Minister was snubbed by the entire Indian political class upon his arrival, with even the Prime Minister of India, Nareendra Modi, failing to acknowledge his arrival or welcoming them at the airport, instead sending a junior minister to greet him and other Canadian officials.
Justin Trudeau might have also gone to India to clear his government’s image after previous accusations from a top Indian politician of him having Sikh separatist sympathisers in his cabinet. The Chief Minister of the State of Punjab, Amarinder Singh, has in the past accused Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet of being sympathetic to the Khalistani movement (the Sikh separatist movement) in India. These were pretty big accusations especially since the issue of Sikh separatism has had serious repercussions on both Canada and India. In 1985, in the midst of serious clashes between Sikhs and Hindus in India, an Air India flight that had departed from Montréal was blown up off the coast of Ireland by a group of Sikh extremists in Canada. This bombing remains the worst terrorist attack committed in Canada. So, it is understandable that the accusations hurled at Trudeau’s government were not be taken lightly and probably didn’t bode well with the Indian government. So, this trip might have been a good way for Trudeau to set things straight with the Indians and disassociate himself from Sikh extremists. However, things took a turn for the bad when pictures appeared all over the media of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the PM’s wife, and cabinet ministers with Jaspal Atwal, a Khalistani militant who was convicted of trying to kill an Indian Cabinet Minister in Vancouver in 1986 and being part of a Sikh terrorist organization. On top of that, the High Commissioner of Canada to India had also invited Atwal to a diner with Trudeau. While the invitation was quickly rescinded, it is not clear who was responsible for this gaff as multiple sources have given different excuses and blamed different people for this incident. Nonetheless, the damage had been done and certainty did not help clear the image of Trudeau’s government in the eyes of the Indian government.
In brief, from being snubbed by the Prime Minister of India to “accidentally” meeting with a convicted terrorist, Justin Trudeau’s stay in India was anything but what someone would call a normal diplomatic mission. With most time being spent sight-seeing and taking flashy pictures, and so little on official business, his trip to India seems more like a lavish vacation payed for by taxpayers than actual governmental business. And rather than actually strengthening links between Canada and India, Trudeau’s blunders might have just eroded them a little bit further.
Written by: Mohammad-Afaaq Mansoor