Punjab Chief Minister looking forward to meeting Trudeau amidst new Khalistani controversy

Amarinder Singh
Photo: PTI

PUNJAB Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said in Chandigarh that he is looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who will be visiting India from February 17-23 at the invitation of his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, according to an Indian agency PTI report on Thursday.

As reported in The VOICE last month, Trudeau’s state visit will include stops in Agra, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi. He will visit several landmarks, including the Taj Mahal in Agra, Sri Harmandir Sahib (the Golden Temple) in Amritsar, and the Swaminarayan Akshardham in Gujarat.

Amarinder Singh put to rest all speculation that he might snub Trudeau during his visit to Punjab though protocol demands that a chief minister receive the prime minister of any country during a state visit.

Justin Trudeau with Narendra Modi at Davos, Switzerland, last month.
Photo: PIB, India

“The visit will give Canada and Punjab the opportunity to strengthen business and trade ties for mutual benefit,” he said in an official statement.

The chief minister also welcomed the “categorical” denial by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan of taking a pro-Khalistani stance, and congratulated Trudeau for creating the “necessary environment against secessionist forces” believed to be operating from his country, the statement said.

Divisive forces propagating terrorism should not be encouraged at any cost by any nation, the chief minister stressed, adding that such activities pose a serious threat to global peace and, therefore, should not be allowed to flourish in any part of the world.

Nurturing or supporting separatist forces always proves detrimental, in the long run, not only to countries against which they are unleashed but also to those which allow such elements to operate from their soil, he added.

Cover of Outlook magazine.

Amarinder Singh was referring to a Canadian Press story on Wednesday that quoted Sajjan calling allegations that Canada is complicit in a rise in Sikh terrorism by an Indian magazine Outlook that carries a photo of Trudeau on the cover with the headline, “Khalistan-II: Made in Canada,” as “ridiculous” and “offensive.”

Both Sajjan and federal Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Amarjit Sohi made it clear that they neither sympathize with nor espouse the Sikh nationalist movement, Canadian Press reported.

Sohi said that he does not hear much talk about it in the Sikh community and Sajjan said that Canada is being “sucked into” internal Indian politics.

Amarjit Sohi
Photo: Sohi’s website

Sajjan said: “I’ve been a police officer, I’ve served my country and any allegations like that is absolutely ridiculous and I find it extremely offensive as well.”

Sohi told the Canadian Press: “”If there is a small segment of people in Canada who talk about separation, who talk about the creation of Khalistan, if they do that in a peaceful way that is their right to do so but this is not an issue that I hear in the community.”

Harjit Sajjan at the Golden Temple in Amritsar last April.
Photo: Facebook

Amarinder Singh had refused to meet Sajjan during the latter’s visit to Punjab last year in April.

“Harjit Sajjan is a Khalistani sympathiser and so was his father,” Amarinder Singh said during a program on a private TV channel last April.
“There were, in fact, five ministers in the Justin Trudeau government who were Khalistani sympathisers and I will not have any truck with them,” he declared.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Singh Badal had reacted strongly to the “irresponsible statement” by asking Amarinder Singh not to act in a “petty and spiteful” manner and give the defence minister of a sovereign country the respect he deserved.


IN 2016, the Canadian government, apparently succumbing to pressure from a Punjabi faction in this country, didn’t allow former Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, who was the Congress Party’s president of  Punjab state unit, to hold political rallies in Toronto and Vancouver in April of that year on a technicality – although many other Punjabi / Indian politicians had held such rallies in Canada in the past.

The VOICE had reported online in April 2016 that Amarinder Singh would be visiting Canada and the U.S. from April 19 to May 7, 2016,  to try and counteract the influence of the upstart Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on people of Indian origin living outside India. Famous singer Hans Raj Hans was to accompany him.

At the time, Punjab was being run by a Shirimoni Akali Dal (SAD) government headed by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, and the AAP was posing a challenge to both the SAD and the Congress parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had an alliance with the Akali Dal.

But after then-Indian foreign secretary S. Jaishanker informed him that the Canadian rules, under Global Affairs Policy, forbid foreign governments and individuals to conduct election campaigns in Canada, Amarinder Singh decided not to hold the rallies during his six-day visit to Canada that was to start on April 23, 2016. However, he said he would hold meetings with Canadian Punjabis at their homes and in small groups.

Then suddenly he cancelled his visit to Canada and fired off a strong protest letter to Trudeau.

In March 2017, Amarinder Singh won a stunning electoral victory in Punjab – his Congress party won 77 of the 117 state assembly seats – and became the Chief Minister once again.