by Maxime Bergeron
It is too early to call Justin Trudeau’s Indian mission a total failure. But with “deficient” organization, an icy reception from the Indian government, and media coverage dominated by the issues of Sikh extremism and Trudeau’s wardrobe choices, this trip will not go down in history as a success, says Nipa Banerjee, Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences, School of International Development and Global Studies, at the University of Ottawa. She answered La Presse’s questions about the trip.
Q: What do you think of Prime Minister Trudeau’s mission to India so far?
A: I’m a little disappointed with what I saw in the media. I am disappointed to see that India has not observed some of the basic protocols. Prime Minister Trudeau should have been welcomed by the Prime Minister of India, which is the protocol. He has not met with senior members of the government until now. Even though the foreign affairs office says that the whole protocol has been respected, I see that it is not the case. He should have received a better welcome, especially since this is his first visit to India.
Q: Was the organization of this mission botched?
A: It was very deficient. You must have seen this man, Jaspal Atwal, who was invited to Mumbai [Bombay] to the reception for Mr. Trudeau. He was convicted of the attempted murder of a minister from India in British Columbia in 1986, and was also charged with attempting to assassinate Ujjal Dosanjh, the former prime minister of British Columbia. How was he able to receive an invitation? A Canadian Liberal MP asked for him to be invited, and he apologized afterwards. He should have checked his background. The Canadian High Commission in India should have also done some checking. There have been failures on the part of our government in this regard.
Q: Could the question of Sikh separatism explain the cold reception of Justin Trudeau?
A: In India, many people believe that Canada supports the Khalistan movement [which advocates the creation of an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region, from which most Canadians of Indian descent originate]. There are people who have this impression. I do not think Canada has ever formally supported this movement, but people have this perception. This time again, this spin was given. I would be surprised if Prime Minister Narendra Modi believes it, but he may have acted that way toward Justin Trudeau to please Indians voters. Mr. Trudeau has already said that he supports a united India.
Q: Did Justin Trudeau and his family do too much by wearing so many different traditional costumes during this trip?
A: Some people think it’s too much. I think that is just Prime Minister Trudeau’s way of being. I would not be inclined to criticize him because of that. I saw Stephen Harper’s wife, Laureen Harper, wearing traditional clothes for a dance in India. Mr. Harper wore the traditional turban. It was done in the past. Mr. Trudeau is younger, we now know his personality, and we see that he was very enthusiastic about it.
Q: Is this mission in India ending as a failure for Justin Trudeau?
R: It’s very hard to say. I blame his advisers more — in the prime minister’s office, as well as the Canadian High Commission in India — than the prime minister himself. I think it was not prepared properly. It is very disappointing. I would not say it’s a total failure; let’s wait and see what will emerge from his meeting with Prime Minister Modi [scheduled for February 23]. Also, let’s not forget that some investments have been announced.
* Some of Professor Banerjee’s remarks have been condensed for ease of reading.
This article is a translation of an interview that first appeared in La Presse on 23 February 2018.