In Depth

Justin Trudeau’s trip to India: a ‘facile, foolish fiasco’?

Canadian PM castigated at home and abroad over eight-day foreign visit

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been castigated over an official visit to India that has sparked controversy about his party’s alleged links to Sikh extremism.

Trudeau has previously stated that Canada supports only a “unified India”, but his “close links with the country’s robust Sikh community, among which many pro-independence groups operate, has overshadowed his trip”, says The Daily Telegraph.

 The Washington Post’s Barkha Dutt goes a step further, describing Trudeau’s eight-day expedition as “an absolute fiasco”.

“The trip from the outset was playing to a diaspora gallery back home, one in which he has been studiously ambiguous on the Khalistani ties of some of his Liberal Party’s Sikh Canadian supporters,” Vivek Dehejia, a professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, told Dutt.

The threadbare itinerary during Trudeau’s visit, accompanied by his wife and three children, “created the impression that the excursion was more taxpayer-funded family vacation than serious business”, says John Ibbitson of Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail.

The Trudeaus’ decision to wear Indian rather than Western clothes during much of the trip raised eyebrows in the local press. Delhi-based news magazine Outlook dubbed their outfits “too Indian even for an Indian”.

Fashion faux pas aside, Trudeau’s trip took a much more serious turn when “it was revealed a convicted Sikh terrorist was on the invitation list for two engagements with the Canadian prime minister”, says The Daily Telegraph.

Jaspal Atwal, a pro-Khalistan separatist campaigning for an independent Sikh homeland in India, was pictured with the PM’s wife, Sophie, at an event in Mumbai on Tuesday and was initially on the guest list for a dinner in Delhi on Thursday.

“Obviously we take this situation extremely seriously,” Trudeau told reporters yesterday. “The individual in question never should have received an invitation. As soon as we found out, we rescinded the invitation immediately.”

“Trudeau’s love of the international spotlight, which served the government well in the past, has now turned against him, making him appear facile and foolish during his long Indian sojourn,” says The Globe and Mail’s Ibbitson.

But the PM may consider that a price worth paying if, as The Washington Post’s Shivan Vij claims, “for Trudeau, this trip is all about the Sikh vote in Canada”.

Indeed, the controversy over the trip “helps the Canadian leader with a voting bloc that he covets”, says The Atlantic’s Krishnadev Calamur. “Without having done or said anything overtly, or even tacitly, supportive of the Khalistan movement, Trudeau will have shown Sikh Canadians that his primary loyalty is to Canada and Canadians - not to what the Indian government might want or think.”

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