New Delhi: India is expected to raise the issue of the alleged Khalistani sentiment simmering in Canada when Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Justin Trudeau on February 23. It has been a matter of concern for India, especially after reports surfaced that Indian diplomats were being barred from entering Canadian gurdwaras.
Canadian diplomatic sources said "any issue and concern on the security front would be on the table and Canada will cooperate in all such investigations." This was in reply to a question on Khalistan and the 1985 Kanishka air tragedy that killed 329 people onboard Air India flight AI 182.
Last year when the Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan visited India, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh refused to meet him terming some of Trudeau’s Sikh cabinet ministers as Khalistani sympathisers. Canada had rejected the allegations immediately. Ahead of the Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit, Canadian diplomatic sources reiterated that the Punjab CM’s statement in the past was "disappointing and incorrect".
In fact, there was lack of clarity on a Trudeau-Amarinder meeting till Monday when the Punjab Chief Minister's office released a statement finally confirming a one-on-one meeting between the two. Amarinder later tweeted saying, "I’m hopeful that this meeting will help strengthen the close Indo-Canadian business ties as well as the deep-rooted people-to-people relations between our two countries."
The first official visit of Trudeau has been marred by the controversy. Prime Minister Modi neither received him at the airport, as he has been doing with a few visiting dignitaries of late, nor did he accompany the Canadian premier to his home state when Trudeau and family went to Sabarmati Ashram. This stood in sharp contrast to the pomp and show for Chinese President Xi Jinping, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and most recently Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Ahmedabad.
On India's concerns, Canadian diplomatic sources said the size of the Punjabi community in Canada is significant and so this issue is important to Canada as well. According to the Indian High Commission's website, Canada hosts one of the largest Indian diasporas in the world, numbering 16 lakh (PIOs and NRIs) which account for more than 3% of its total population. Out of this, the around 5 lakh strong Sikh population has the most political clout. Four of Trudeau's Indian origin ministers are Sikhs. It is due to this some believed that the Canadians are going soft on the issue of Khalistan.
It is to be noted that in May, 2016 the Canadian Prime Minister delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons on the Komagata Maru incident involving many Sikh immigrants who were denied permission to disembark in Vancouver over a century ago.
Trudeau acknowledged the Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s role in bringing the Komagata Maru incident to national attention. He said, "As a nation, we should never forget the prejudice suffered by the Sikh community at the hands of the Canadian government of the day." The Indian government said, "We welcome and deeply appreciate the gesture of Prime Minister of Canada."