By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh– With Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s scheduled visit to the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in Punjab just over a fortnight away, it is still not clear whether Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh will play host to the visiting dignitary or not.
Trudeau is visiting India from February 17 to 23 at the invitation of his India counterpart, Narendra Modi, with stops at Agra, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.
Trudeau’s Amritsar visit to the Golden Temple, the holiest of Sikh shrines, carries a political message to a huge constituency back home in Canada with a big Punjabi, especially Sikh, population settled there.
While Trudeau will be feted by the central and state governments in New Delhi and other places, there is uncertainty on whether Amarinder Singh will hold a meeting with Trudeau or play host during the Amritsar visit.
“There is nothing so far,” Amarinder’s media adviser Raveen Thukral told IANS here when asked about the status of Amarinder receiving or hosting the Canadian Prime Minister in Amritsar.
Well-placed sources in the Punjab government say that the Chief Minister will have to go by the protocol issued by the Centre since Trudeau will be on a state visit. Punjab has a strong Canadian connection with hundreds of thousands of immigrants settled there and thousands of students from Punjab going to Canada annually.
Amarinder had publicly refused to meet Canada’s first Sikh Defence Minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan, who was born in Punjab’s Hoshiarpur district, when he visited the state last April.
The Amarinder government had cold-shouldered Sajjan, the first Sikh to be the Defence Minister of a Western country, as he visited various places in Punjab. No minister or senior officer of the Punjab government either went to welcome Sajjan or even accompany him during the visit.
Amarinder had accused Sajjan and other ministers of Punjabi origin in the Trudeau government of links to radical elements demanding a separate Sikh state of Khalistan.
Amarinder made it clear that he “would not meet any Khalistani sympathisers”.
“Not only Sajjan, but other ministers and MPs, including Navdeep Bains, Amarjit Sohi, Sukh Dhaiwal, Darshan Kang, Raj Grewal, Harinder Malhi, Roby Sahota, Jagmeet Singh and Randeep Sari, are well known for their leanings towards the Khalistani movement,” Amarinder had said last year.
The reasons for Amarinder’s annoyance with the Canadian government are apparent.
In April 2016, he had shot off an angry letter to protest the Canadian government’s denial of permission for his interactive meetings with Punjabis in the cities of Toronto and Vancouver. He was forced to cancel his political rallies following objections raised by Sikh hardliners with the Canadian government.
Amarinder, who was not the Chief Minister at the time, had protested the Canadian government’s “gag order” on him. The Canadian government had officially raised its objection to Amarinder’s visit through the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a human rights advocacy group with radical leanings, had lodged a complaint with the Canadian government through a law firm against the election activities planned by Amarinder Singh.
Trying to cash in on the cold vibes between the Amarinder and Trudeau governments, the Punjab unit of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has sought a meeting with Trudeau during his visit to felicitate him.
Canadian authorities are attaching great importance to the Trudeau visit.
“Canada greatly values its strong relationship with India. This visit reflects the high level of priority that Prime Minister Trudeau places on this strategic partnership. Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit builds on visits by 11 Cabinet Ministers in the past 18 months,” Canadian High Commissioner Nadir Patel said recently.
Trudeau, who took office in November 2015, inducted four ministers of Punjabi-origin in his government.
Canada is home to a large Indian diaspora, as approximately 3.6 per cent of Canadians are of Indian heritage and India is Canada’s second-largest source of immigrants. The majority of the immigrants are from Punjab.
Canada is also a leading education destination for Indian students, with approximately 124,000 Indians holding valid Canadian study permits last year.