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It is best to ignore Trudeau

India in response summoned the Canadian High Commissioner, Nadir Patel, and issued a strong demarche. The demarche stated that remarks made by PM Trudeau “would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada”. Trudeau was unwilling to retract.

HARSHA KAKAR | New Delhi |

Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, walked into controversy by commenting on the farmer agitation in India. He stated during an online interaction with the local Sikh Community on Gurpurab, “I would be remiss if I didn’t start also by recognising the news coming out of India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning, and we’re all very worried about family and friends.” He added, “Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protesters. We believe in the process of dialogue. We’ve reached out through multiple means to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns.”

India in response summoned the Canadian High Commissioner, Nadir Patel, and issued a strong demarche. The demarche stated that remarks made by PM Trudeau “would have a seriously damaging impact on ties between India and Canada”. Trudeau was unwilling to retract.

Earlier, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, which backs the Trudeau government, had supported the farmers agitation in a message on Twitter. The MEA added that these comments encouraged gatherings of extremist activists at the Indian High Commission and consulates in Canada.

In response, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar skipped Canada-led meetings to formulate strategies on the coronavirus pandemic. He had earlier participated in similar conferences. The reason stated was scheduling issues, though both nations are aware of the true reason. India-Canada relations have not been close in recent times.

Trudeau’s visit to India in 2018 was a disaster basically on account of his links with the Khalistan movement. He was received at Delhi airport by a minister of state, not a cabinet minister, as is the norm. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh refused to meet him on account of the presence of a radical in the entourage. At the end of the day, the visit was criticised, even in Canada, for its lack of official business. Other than one delegation level meeting, the visit yielded nothing except photo-ops of the Trudeau family visiting tourist spots.

The reason for Trudeau supporting the farmers agitation is his domestic compulsions. His is a minority government supported by the NDP. Sikhs in Canada form a major vote bank and in case of fresh elections, he would seek their support. With Jagmeet Singh having commented on the agitation, Trudeau was expected to follow suit.

Officially, Canada has been against the Minimum Support Price (MSP), a major aspect amongst the agitators’ demands. BJP’s spokesperson, Vijay Chauthaiwale tweeted, “Canada’s criticism of India on farmer’s issues is nothing but hypocrisy. Canada is a strident critic of MSP and other agriculture policies at the WTO, and often questions India’s domestic agriculture measures including food and livelihood security.” Thus, the reason for Trudeau walking into the controversy is solely internal domestic compulsions.

Israeli policy against the Palestinians is dominated by coalition partners within the ruling government. Since every government in the country has been a coalition, the Prime Minister is duty bound to carry all partners along in every decision. Even the temporary coalition between Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, post three failed elections, has differing views. Netanyahu wanted to annex a large part of the West Bank this year, while Gantz was reluctant without the support of the international community which strongly opposes annexation. Netanyahu was compelled to pull back.

Donald Trump ignored demands for action against Saudi Arabia on the killing of Jamaal Khashoggi and India on revoking of Article 370 and imposing restrictions in Kashmir, due to his personal equations with both heads of state. He preferred exploiting PM Modi for his re-election bid, rather than tamper with relations by criticizing. Joe Biden may have a different approach.

Even in India, domestic political compulsions have impacted decisions and comments. The UPA government led by Manmohan Singh was unable to sign defence agreements with the US, mainly on account of objections from the CPI, which was a coalition partner. In the summer of 2008, Manmohan Singh had threatened to resign in frustration, if the UPA coalition was to buckle under CPI pressure on the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The Congress’ Sri Lankan policies were perpetually impacted by political parties of Tamil Nadu. While India continues to raise the issue of devolution of powers to Sri Lankan Tamils, part of the 13th Amendment, the Modi government no longer exerts the same pressure. Security concerns carry greater emphasis.

In Kashmir, in deference to the once powerful Hurriyat and seeking to retain support from radicalised youth, local political parties have been demanding talks with Pakistan, aware that problems in the region were their creation and talks with Pakistan would never yield results. Mehbooba Mufti had recently stated, “China grabbed our land, but we are talking to them. Soldiers at both sides of the border are dying, why can’t we hold talks with Pakistan?”

Valley politicians have even supported terrorists claiming they were fighting for a cause. Mehbooba stated in a press interaction, “The youth today believes that now they have no choice, it is better to pick up weapons and die.” These comments from Kashmir are more for local consumption and securing vote banks. She is aware that her coalition with the BJP had led to a revolt in her home turf of South Kashmir by the Jamaat-e-Islami, fuelling the post Burhan Wani violence. She is now seeking to regain her hold and one of the means is to play to the gallery.

Globally, domestic politics have dominated internal and external relations and comments. Under these considerations comments by Trudeau are not far out of tune. They are not aimed at challenging Indian actions nor in genuine support of the agitators, but to safeguard a domestic electoral base. It is more pronounced as these comments flow from a nation which is against the very policies against which farmers are protesting. While global leaders need to be wary, some of their comments are best ignored.

The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.