In The News This Week: Trudeau in India

A slow-moving train wreck, or, much ado about nothing? mPolitics takes a look at Trudeau’s reportedly “disastrous” trip to India. 

Justin Trudeau’s state visit to India this week generated significant media buzz, both in Canada and internationally, but not the kind of media buzz that him and his team are used to. What started off as a promising diplomatic mission quickly became a trip mired in controversy, including allegations that the PM was “snubbed” by the Modi government, criticism over his choice of clothing, and serious controversy involving a Sikh extremist. Here is a quick rundown of the major issues:

  • The ‘snub’: The visit got off to a rocky start from day one, with media reports in India implying Prime Minister Trudeau had been ‘snubbed’ with a “low-key” airport welcome. Rather than being welcomed by Prime Minister Modi himself, as was the case for former US President Barack Obama and other high-profile state officials, Trudeau was received by a junior agriculture minister. Commentators also noted that there was no official welcome tweet from Modi, nor did he accompany Trudeau to his home state of Gujarat. (Sources: Washington Post, Toronto Star)
  • The clothes: Trudeau and his family were also criticized by various media outlets for their “over-the-top” traditional outfits. An Indian politician, Omar Abdullah, derided the PM for his “choreographed cuteness”, tweeting “FYI, we Indians don’t dress like this every day sir, not even in Bollywood”. As this article from the New York Times comments, the debate over his choice of dress raises the question of “where to draw the line between honoring local customs and cultural appropriation”. (Sources: Toronto Star, Times of India)
  • The controversial invitation: The most serious issue that plagued Trudeau’s trip resulted from a PMO invite to a convicted Sikh extremist, Jaspal Atwal, to attend a reception in Delhi. According to reports from CBC, Atwal was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation, a banned terrorist group in Canada and India, and was convicted of the attempted murder of an Indian cabinet minister in 1986. After discovering the mistake, the invitation was quickly rescinded, and Trudeau has said he will sit down with Liberal MP Randeep Sarai next week to discuss this. (Sources: CBC, The Globe and Mail)
    • FYI: Sikh separatism, and the Khalistan movement, is a highly charged political issue in India. The Canadian PM has been accused by Indian politicians in the past for ‘sympathizing’ with the Khalistani cause, and for “harbouring ministers sympathetic to the separatist cause in his cabinet”. (CBC, The New York Times)

 For all the negative press and controversy, the trip seemingly culminated on a positive note, with Trudeau meeting (and hugging) Prime Minister Modi on Friday, followed by bilateral talks and a joint press conference. So, with all this in mind, what conclusions can we draw from Trudeau’s visit? First, as discussed in the latest episode of CBC’s The House, it remains unclear what the main purpose(s) of the visit was from a foreign policy perspective, and the Liberal team could have done a better job of making the diplomatic agenda clear to the Canadian media. Undoubtedly, the Atwal invitation was a serious error, and one that warrants the negative attention it received. Whether the same can be said for all the additional negative press is less clear, and we welcome your thoughts, questions and comments. (Sources: CNN)

If you’re interesting in learning more about this, the CBC facilitates a really interesting panel discussion in their latest episode of The House. Or, if you’re looking for a chuckle, check out this video of Trudeau’s youngest son Hadrien meeting with Modi.

Authored By: Emma McKay, Co-Founder & Editor, mPolitics


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