Justin Trudeau is only halfway through his week-long India trip, but the lack of substantial official engagements is already raising eyebrows- and causing speculation about whether he’s being snubbed because of his government’s association with Khalistan sympathizers.
The Canadian Prime Minister landed in India on Saturday along with his family and several ministers. His itinerary has taken him to Agra, Gujarat and Mumbai so far. His next stop is Amritsar, followed finally by Delhi, where he will confer with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for half a day. The only other official meeting of any consequence will be one between external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland.
There’s little doubt the government is consciously snubbing Trudeau. The elected official to greet him when he landed on Saturday night was minister of state for agriculture Gajendra Singh. And Modi has not accompanied Trudeau to his home state of Gujarat, something he’s usually done when other when other heads of government come calling.
In an interview with Scroll.in, India’s former high commissioner to Canada Vishnu Prakash, conceded that India was concerned that Trudeau’s government had ‘gone beyond the needs of political arithmetic and have been courting or mollycoddling radical elements, Khalistani elements in particular.’
Irritation over the Canadians’ soft spot for Sikh separatists also sparked a spat between Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh and Canadian defence minister Harjit Singh Sajjan over the last few months.
Of course, India has scrupulously stuck to protocol. While making its displeasure known, it does not seek to offend the Canadians. Modi and Swaraj are likely to bring up their concerns during their meetings on Friday. And even Amarinder Singh tweeted on Monday that he was looking forward to meeting Trudeau in Amritsar.
The two sides will also want to steer focus to matters of trade. Speaking at IIM Ahmedabad on Monday, Trudeau pointed out that the $8 billion bilateral trade between the two countries left ‘a lot of room to grow.’ He added that Canada took in 125,000 Indian university students annually, making India ‘the second-largest source of foreign students.’
While the two countries have been negotiating a free trade agreement since 2010, no breakthrough is likely in the near future. However, there are other opportunities. Canadian pension funds have invested billions in India, especially in infrastructure. And the country’s oil and gas industry is eager to step up exports to India, which would welcome opportunities to diversify, if only marginally, from its West Asian suppliers.