Bound by personal, religious and political links in Canada, many Sikhs in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe will be keenly following the week-long visit to India of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is scheduled to visit Punjab, among other engagements, from Saturday.
Of interest will be his position on ‘Khalistan’: whether he reiterates Canada’s official stand that freedom of expression in Canada allowed extending it support, or he adopts a pro-New Delhi posture and commits to India’s unity and integrity.
Campaign group Sikh Federation UK said on Friday that every word Trudeau will speak about the experience of Sikhs in India will be closely watched and dissected by Sikhs, not only in Canada but in other parts of the globe too.
“Privately and publicly there is no doubt the Indian authorities and the media will challenge Trudeau on his perceived backing or otherwise for those campaigning for a separate Sikh homeland, ‘Khalistan’…How Trudeau responds to questions about Sikhs in Canada could determine his political future”, it said in a statement.
A related issue is the existence of a so-called ‘blacklist’ of Sikhs in Canada that allegedly prevents former London- and Europe-based supporters of ‘Khalistan’ from travelling to Canada, an issue that has brought hardliners and moderates together.
Jasdev Singh Rai, director of the Sikh Human Rights Forum, who was a key interlocutor in talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in London in November 2015, is one of those recently refused the electronic travel authorisation (ETA) to travel to Canada.
He said: “Trudeau should be asked why Canada has set up a ‘blacklist’ of Sikhs, accusing them of working against another government (India). While India has given these people visas and OCI (overseas citizen of India) cards, it is extraordinary that Canada is the only country with a ‘blacklist’ of Sikhs.”
Rai and others affected by the ‘blacklist’ previously travelled to Canada freely, but are unable to do so particularly after the Trudeau government came to power, incidentally when for the first time in Canada’s history there are four Sikhs in ministerial positions. The four are Harjit Singh Sajjan (defence), Navdeep Singh Bains (innovation, science and economic development), Amarjit Singh Sohi (infrastructure and communities) and Bardish Kaur Chagger (small business and tourism).
The Sikh federation UK statement added: “There is no doubt Trudeau will need to walk a fine line during his India visit given the media hype of him being a close ally of the Sikhs. The fact that economic trade between Canada and India is relatively small will help Trudeau stand up to pressure from New Delhi during his visit given the line taken by his Conservative predecessor (Stephen Harper)”.
The federation also brought up that next year he will be up against Punjabi-origin Sikh Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party, “who will have most to gain if Trudeau fails to at least go as far as Stephen Harper in defending the rights of Sikhs in Canada to be able to highlight the atrocities by the Indian authorities; i.e. the failure to release Sikh political prisoners who have served their terms and have the freedom to advocate for ‘Khalistan’.”