Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ended the uncertainty over whether he would hold a one-on-one meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and said on Monday that he was looking forward to receive him in Amritsar on Wednesday.
Singh would be the first major leader to meet Trudeau, who has cut a lonely figure on the first three days of his week-long India visit. The Canadian premier was received by MoS Agriculture Gajendra Singh, not the kind of reception he would have expected. PM Modi and Sushma did not even tweet any welcome message for him. One reason why Trudeau has been cold shouldered is the apparent support he and his government have been giving to pro-Khalistan voices in Canada, and this is expected to be discussed during Wednesday’s meet.
While announcing that the meet would take place, Singh said that he hopes to take Punjab’s close “business as well as people-to-people relations with Canada to the next level”, but omitted any mention of the sensitive separatist issue.
The Chief Minister had already issued instructions to the state administration to roll out the red carpet for the visiting dignitary’s February 21 visit but was awaiting permission from the Ministry of External Affairs to hold a structured meeting.
“Look forward to meeting Canadian Prime Minister @JustinTrudeau in Amritsar on Wednesday. I’m hopeful that this meeting will help strengthen the close Indo-Canadian business ties as well as the deep-rooted people-to-people relations between our two countries,” the Chief Minister tweeted.
He expressed the hope that his meeting with Trudeau would help strengthen the bilateral relations between Canada and India, particularly in the context of Punjab, which has a large diaspora in Canada.
A spokesperson of the Chief Minister’s Office said that trade and business will be the key focus areas of the meeting. But sources have said that he also wishes to discuss issues related to the Sikh diaspora in Canada supporting the creation of Khalistan, a separate Sikh nation, by dividing India.
The CM had last year also refused to meet Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan during his visit to the state and has also called out members of Trudeau’s cabinet for their ties with the Khalistani movement. But on Monday, he appreciated Trueau’s efforts in strengthening the connection between Punjab and Canada.
Referring to Trudeau’s apology two years ago in the Canadian parliament for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident, in which hundreds of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu passengers in a ship were denied entry into Canada and forced to return to India, where they met a violent fate, Singh said it was a gesture that underlined the depth of the relations between the two countries.
Trudeau, on his part, had famously quipped during his US visit in 2017 that he has more Sikhs in his cabinet than Prime Minister Modi.
Sikhs are an influential voting community in Canada and being away from India many among them are also quite vocal in their demand for a separate Sikh homeland called Khalistan.
have to air their views and also to support radical elements based in India.
Trudeau himself is caught between two opposite tugs. One the one hand he needs to reach out to one of the world’s fastest growing economies to enhance trade relations. This would clearly entail showing a tougher stance towards Khalistani sympathisers back home. On the other hand he wants to remain in the good books of the Canadian Sikhs, who are politically influential. And that would require a semblance of soft support for Khalistan.
The Canadians try and get away from questions over support for Khalistan by saying Canada supports political freedom of speech and expression and that includes voicing support for a separate Sikh homeland.
Indian security agencies are increasingly edgy over the freedom that Khalistani sympathisers in Canada