Two publications with two contrasting tones. Indian magazines, Outlook and The Caravan, splashed Canadian Sikh-related themes on their cover in their latest issues, but taking starkly different positions.
Outlook went on a tirade of how Canadian Sikhs are fuelling the Khalistan agenda for Sikhs in India with a headline ‘Khalistan II: Made in Canada’. The Caravan front-paged up and coming Canadian politician, posing the question ‘Jagmeet Singh: Hard questions for the poster boy of Canadian multiculturalism’.
The context: Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maiden visit to India starting February 17. In the one week working visit, Amritsar is on the itinerary, possibly to the consternation of some Indian political segments that have in the past played up the anti-Sikh card.
In its cover story entitled ‘Panth And A Foreign Hand’, Outlook claimed that a ‘new real threat of Khalistani terror, fuelled and funded by foreign gurudwaras patronised by liberal white politicians, has revived memories of a blood-drenched era of Punjab’s history’. In one article, it quoted Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh as saying: “On the face of it, there seems to be evidence that there are Khalistani sympathizers in [Canadian PM] Trudeau’s cabinet.”
A casual media reading would consign such reporting, especially the supposed Khalistan spectra, to be mere sensational work in light of the Trudeau’s visit.
Canadian politicians of Sikh descend have made major strides in Canada in the recent years. Following the 2015 Federal general elections, Trudeau appointed four Sikhs into his Cabinet, with two of them turban-bearing amritdharis, naturally creating euphoria in the Sikh diaspora.
Harjit Singh Sajjan landed the defence minister job, Navdeep Singh Bains was made Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Amarjeet Singh Sohi took up the Minister for Infrastructure post while first-time MP Bardish Kaur Jhagger was made Minister for Small Business and Tourism.
The presence of Sikhs in the Canadian political sphere has gone mainstream, with Trudeau even joking that he had more Sikh ministers than Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On a recent trip to China, Trudeau was flanked by at least two Sikh minister during his media briefing.
More than one million people of Indian descent live in Canada. According to the most recent information on religion available from Statistics Canada, 454,965 people identified as Sikh in 2011. The majority are concentrated in Vancouver and in the Great Toronto Area, making their political influence significant in this country. Sikhs account for a very small minority in India, according to an article in Global News.
KHALISTAN AND THE MEDIA
When asked to comment on the alleged Khalistan links, Harjit responded: “I find that absolutely ridiculous….I’ve been a police officer, I’ve served my country and any allegations like that I find ridiculous and offensive as well.”
Jagmeet, who sits on the other side of the political divide from Trudeau, also rubbished the allegations. He said: “They are baseless accusations against the government and baseless accusations against members of cabinet and the government and I think that they’re completely unfounded and unacceptable.”
But the Khalistan issue is no walk in the park, including for media organisation. The BBC Asian Network will be discussing the issue on the Nihal On the Radio show today (11 Feb 2018), with the Sikh Press Association (SikhPA) taking part.
SikhPA, national news agency representing the Sikh community in the UK aims to provide accurate multimedia content for mainstream media globally.
In its article entitled ‘Model Minority’, The Caravan commented on the move by India to deny him entry to India. The article says:
The Indian government’s decision to bar Jagmeet’s entry in 2013 was historic—he became the first Western legislator ever to be denied a visa to the country—and made news in both Canada and India. It was particularly surprising because Jagmeet had visited the country earlier that same year. In an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen, Jagmeet argued that, by this act of exclusion, India had jeopardised its ties with Canada. “It is my belief that the relationship is now in question and the international community must defend Canada’s place as a country whose law-abiding citizens are welcomed by the world.”
When asked to explain why Jagmeet’s visa application was denied, India’s consul-general in Canada at the time tersely told reporters that people “who seek to undermine” Indian political institutions and “foment contempt to the country” were only “misusing the pretext of human rights to pursue their insidious agenda of disrupting the social fabric of India.” Although there was no official statement on why Jagmeet was suddenly persona non grata with the Indian government, many concluded that it had to do with his activism around the 1984 Sikh massacre and his perceived ties with Sikh separatists.
To the likely consternation of Indian officials, less than four years later, in October 2017, Jagmeet was elected to head Canada’s New Democratic Party—becoming the first non-white, non-aboriginal member of a minority to lead one of Canada’s three main political parties. His achievement made international headlines, and prompted celebration from socially conscious Canadians in general and the country’s young, progressive Sikhs in particular.
[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE. Follow us on Twitter. Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com] 17723
Canada Sikhs journey from hostility, heartache and finding home (Asia Samachar, 7 Feb 2018)
Why Khalistani narrative about Canada is a disservice to Sikhs – DailyO (Asia Samachar, 5 June 2017)
Jagmeet Singh wins party leadership, now eyes Canadian prime ministership (Asia Samachar, 2 Oct 2017)
4 Sikhs take up Cabinet berth in Canada (Asia Samachar, 5 Nov 2015)