Justin time

| Updated on February 23, 2018 Published on February 23, 2018

Anxieties over a perceived snub and diplomatic gaffes notwithstanding, the Trudeau-Modi meeting seems to have gone off well

It all came out alright in the end — just about. But there were many tense moments before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged and posed for the cameras, shaking hands and beaming with bonhomie. The two later addressed a joint press conference where Modi stressed the battle against terrorism and Trudeau focused on economic cooperation and Indian students heading to Canada in droves. State visits are minutely choreographed events with battalions of bureaucrats slaving behind the scenes to ensure that everything goes like clockwork. Then, throw in the fact that Canada is a country with few enemies. Add to that mix Justin Trudeau, easily the world’s most photogenic leader and his lovely young family, and the fact that Modi and Trudeau have met several times at global summits. What could possibly go wrong? The answer: Just about everything.

For Canadian and British prime ministers, a trip to India is an essential about a year before a general election because Indian-origin voters can tilt the balance in marginal constituencies in both countries. In Canada, about 40 per cent of the 1 million Indians are Sikhs, some of whom still support the Khalistan movement. The Indian government has been incensed by gurudwaras in Canada and the US, which, in January, enforced formal restrictions on Indian government officials. India is also uncomfortable with some of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet members, such as the minister for national defence, Harjit Sajjan. On top of all this came the fiasco about the Canadian High Commission invitation to Jaspal Atwal, convicted for attempting to murder a Punjab State minister, who was photographed in Mumbai with Trudeau’s wife, Sophie. The result of all this was that Trudeau was roasted on social media by both Indians and Canadians who fired broadsides at him on everything from his perceived refusal to condemn the Khalistan movement to the family’s over-the-top attempts to adopt vividly hued Indian-style attire almost all through the week.

Till the last moment, it wasn’t clear whether India’s pique would extend to Modi refusing to meet Trudeau, and the suspense ended only when Modi sent out a welcome tweet on Thursday. The fact is that India and Canada have plenty of areas where cooperation is possible. Indian infotech companies, wary of US moves to tighten immigration controls, are looking at Canada as a possible base. Trade too can be greatly expanded though there are disputes over Indian tariffs on pulses. While the message on Khalistan has been conveyed, India and Canada have no major disputes and an outright snub to the Canadian prime minister would have been an unnecessary overreaction.

Published on February 23, 2018
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