AN UNEASY RELATIONSHIP: India Giving Step-Motherly Treatment To Canadian Sikhs

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits the Jama Masjid Mosque in New Delhi, India on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Bhupinder Singh Liddar

Canadian Sikhs have an uneasy relationship with their ancestral homeland, India. They are considered a tremendous asset in Canada, but are viewed as a liability by India.


Just as Jews, who were born in Arab countries before the founding of Israel in 1948, have emotional bonds with their birthplace, but have poured all their energies into Israel and other adopted lands, Sikhs too have done the same with equal vigor, including Canada, which is home to largest Sikh Diaspora.


However, Canadian-Sikhs and Indian government have a bitter and tempestuous relationship, which re-surfaced during the recent visit to India by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was accompanied by his family and six cabinet ministers, four of them Sikh.


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not show up at the airport to welcome Trudeau family and six Canadian cabinet ministers. Modi welcomed his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu at Delhi airport, only a few days earlier. Furthermore, it took Modi four days to tweet a welcome to Trudeau and five days before the two met. This is not the stuff of decent diplomacy between two supposedly friendly countries.


Secession is a very sensitive subject for any country. However, it is dishonest to label all Canadian-Sikhs as supporters of an independent Khalistan, just as not all Canadian-Irish support IRA, or all Canadians of Scottish origin support an independent Scotland. Just as in human divorce, decision to secede is not taken overnight, but is usually the result of historic root causes, usually mostly grievances. Why Catalonia wants to secede from Spain, or Biafra from Nigeria, or Quebec from Canada? Why does Scotland want to become an independent country? Canada is unique to have put in place policies of inclusiveness to keep it a united country..


India is paranoid about support among Canadian-Sikhs for an independent Sikh state – Khalistan, to be carved out of present day India, with borders similar to existing State of Punjab. Sikhs have been seeking an independent state of their own ever since India gained independence in 1947. Indians do not understand that Canadians have freedom to express support for an independent Scotland, Catalonia, a united Ireland, and Khalistan and even for Quebec to secede from Canada, as long as violence is not advocated!  Canadians were also for the dismembering USSR


Sikhs first arrived in Canada almost 120 years ago and have had a chequered past in their adopted land. From fighting off racial discrimination to currently holding five cabinet portfolios in Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet, Sikhs are an exemplary community. Herb Dhaliwal was the first Indo-Canadian cabinet minister in western world and Gurbax Singh Malhi the first turbaned Member of Parliament. Both were elected in 1993.


Many Sikhs came to Canada as refugees when hundreds of innocent Sikh worshippers were killed in 1984 during Indian Army attacked on Sikhs’ holy place, the Golden Temple on a day of religious celebration. In retaliation Sikh bodyguards killed Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, which in turn resulted in killing of thousands of innocent Sikhs, including children and women, in the capital New Delhi and across the country. Ontario Legislative Assembly last year passed a motion calling these killing of Sikhs in India in 1984, a genocide!


Indian government officials have raised the issue of support for Khalistan in Canada with every visiting senior Canadian official over last three decades. Joe Clark, when foreign affairs minister in Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s government, instructed Canadian provincial premiers not to attend a dinner hosted by Canada-based World Sikh Organization, which supports establishment of Khalistan.


India has denied a visitor’s visa to leader of Canada’s federal New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, a Sikh, for his criticism of human rights violations, particularly against Sikhs, in India.


A couple of years ago, while responding to a question at the American University in Washington DC, Trudeau joked: “I have more Sikh Ministers than Modi”. A remark that must have rattled Modi.


If Canada and India did not enjoy amicable relations before, they have certainly soured further following Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit, with little hope for rapprochement.


However, Trudeau has cemented his relationship with Canadian Sikh community and garnered sympathy among Canadians who feel their Prime Minister was treated unfairly and disrespectfully by his Indian hosts.


Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a retired Canadian diplomat, who was appointed Canada’s first Consul General in Chandigarh in 2004. www.liddar.ca bsliddar@hotmail.com

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