PERSPECTIVE
A SAFFRON JOURNEY VIA CANADA
Trudeau came to Punjab, pushed Amarinder closer to BJP, then called him a liar
- S Pal
Trudeau came to Punjab, pushed Amarinder closer to BJP, then called him a liar



HE DID NOT WANT to meet him; the guest, in turn, never wanted to see him. In the end, both met. And then, one of them told a lie.

Amarinder Singh claimed in writing that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured him that Ottawa did not support any separatist movement anywhere. And then laid thick his claim by making a reference to Quebec which is looking for independence from Canada.

Here is what a suave Amarinder, or his talented media advisor, said in an official statement mass emailed to journalists: "Citing the separatist movement in Quebec, Trudeau said he had dealt with such threats all his life and was fully aware of the dangers of violence, which he had always pushed back with all his might.”
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"The reports are false; I said nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I have always said I’m very proud of the lessons Canada and Quebec have to share on differences of opinion shared in peaceful ways and pluralism and diversity that is positive for our community.” This was Trudeau, calling Punjab CM Amarinder Singh a liar. So far, the Punjab Civil Secretariat has not responded.
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While the highly paid press release writers of Punjab government may not have been aware, Canada actually has newspapers and journalists, and some of those hacks also read Indian media reports. Naturally, even before Trudeau was to leave for home, the Canadian journalists asked him about his alleged remarks made in the context of Quebec. Trudeau decided not to be diplomatic any more.

"The reports are false; I said nothing of the sort. On the contrary, I have always said I’m very proud of the lessons Canada and Quebec have to share on differences of opinion shared in peaceful ways and pluralism and diversity that is positive for our community.” This was Trudeau, calling Punjab CM Amarinder Singh a liar. Right on Indian soil. So far, the Punjab Civil Secretariat has not responded.

Between the two, it is anyone’s guess who carries more credibility, but the question is, who put the reference to Quebec in the Amarinder government’s official statement, and why.

While Amarinder government made much of the list of 11 wanted men given to Trudeau, the latter was almost dismissive of it, saying his government regularly received such information and the list was passed on to intelligence officials. "It is not something that is particularly an out-of-order request,” he said. 
  
Effectively, Amarinder Singh used Trudeau’s visit to do what a Modi government’s backroom boy should have done during an advance meeting before Trudeau even left Canadian shores. 

But one thing is for sure: the Congress leader, Amarinder Singh, emerged as a strong nationalist voice dedicated to the territorial integrity of India, ready to wrestle anyone to the ground over even a whiff of Khalistani talk.
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In his second term as chief minister, Amarinder Singh possibly has had a change of heart that has moved him much closer to the BJP and the RSS. While he ostensibly leads a Congress government, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo could not have asked for a better ally in Punjab.
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Meet Amarinder Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab. Of the many shades of turban that he wears, I do not recall seeing him sporting saffron, but saffron is what he eats, drinks, sleeps and talks now.

Public memory may be short, but contemporary history comes back to haunt faster than politicians wedded to expediency realise.

It was natural for the media to fish out Amarinder Singh's pictures circa 2005 from Canada's Dixie gurdwara with a "Khalistan Zindabad” inscription banner behind him. The BJP was then in the forefront of those demanding resignation, rather removal, of Amarinder Singh as chief minister of Punjab.

In his second term as chief minister, Amarinder Singh possibly has had a change of heart that has moved him much closer to the BJP and the RSS. While he ostensibly leads a Congress government, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo could not have asked for a better ally in Punjab.

I am not even asking if a nudge from the Enforcement Directorate makes one start liking saffron, but between a Narendra Modi and an Amarinder Singh, who do you think went to the press to claim that Rahul Gandhi is not as mature as his mother to lead the party?

Modi and Shah consider Rahul Gandhi too important and invariably focus their attacks on him. Amarinder wanted Rahul Gandhi to wait and not take over Congress’ reins.
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Amarinder Singh has been announcing his new ideological affiliations, every statement of his almost perfectly aligned with the BJP's political line. Three Pakistani heads for every Indian soldier martyred, bravery medal for Indian Army major who tied a Kashmiri citizen on the bonnet of a jeep as a human shield, a completely free hand to the army in Kashmir & all resultant casualties as collateral damage, & those questioning Operation Bluestar & India’s human rights record as enemies of India’s integrity – Amarinder Singh’s hardline stance could have been scripted at 6A Deen Dayal Upadhyay Marg.
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There’s more to Amarinder’s nationalist/saffron choices.

In the July of 2016, when the Kashmir valley was on the boil, Amarinder wrote an article in The Tribune saying the Government of India "must allow freedom of action to the Army." (https://goo.gl/vDuL9A)

"The directive must be just one: Bring a situation in the state where the writ of India runs and not that of the ISI. Yes, in the ensuing clashes collateral damage will take place," Amarinder wrote, his words much closer to the position a die-hard Bajrang Dal leader would adopt than even a seasoned BJP leader. It is a pity journalists did not ask Rahul Gandhi of he agreed with his Punjab leader.

When an Army major thought it prudent to truss up a Kashmiri citizen on the bonnet of his jeep to be used as a human shield and paraded him for hours along the valley's roads, Amarinder's line of action was more saffron than Nagpur's prescription.

Not satisfied with his statements hailing the army officer, Amarinder Singh took time out to write a long article for the Indian Express, arguing that "tough situations warrant tough reactions, and dangerous situations often, if not always, merit daring actions."

He called it unfortunate that "there were not many willing to pat his (the army major's) back for his remarkable presence of mind" of coming up with a brilliant idea to pick up a Kashmiri at random and tie him to the bonnet of a jeep to use him as a human shield. (https://goo.gl/Jt7qwa

He actually advocated "a tooth for a tooth and a nail for a nail", said he cares little if it "sounds a crude way of putting it."

"Does an army officer not deserve a reward for saving lives?" Amarinder Singh asked. Good question! It's a pity he didn't announce one to be given by the Punjab government.

But he clearly did announce his new ideological affiliations. Every statement of his is almost perfectly aligned with the BJP's political line, including his initial stance on the movie Padmawati. Days passed before he modified his views a little bit on the issue. 
 
He is the sole Congress leader who issued a statement that he wanted three Pakistani heads for each Indian soldier beheaded, a perfect echo of Sushma Swaraj’s comments that she made when she was the Leader of the Opposition and which she does not repeat now. (They have Amarinder Singh for that. https://goo.gl/AjL4j4)

Amarinder Singh has no views to offer on  Umar Khalid, or Kanhaiya Kumar. His party leader Rahul Gandhi lands up at Hyderabad University for a Rohith Vemula, but Amarinder Singh does not speak in sync with his leader even though Umar Khalid draws crowds in Punjab. But he rushes to defend the army major who uses a Kashmiri citizen as a human shield.

It is in that context that we need to see Amarinder Singh's sudden enthusiasm to emerge on the forefront of the battle to oppose any discourse even remotely touching the subject of India's territorial integrity.

For a man who signed the Amritsar Declaration and remained wedded to the Akali Dal's politics revolving around Anandpur Sahib Resolution, it was quite a journey when Amarinder Singh had refused to meet Harjit Singh Sajjan, the Defence Minister of Canada.

Much has been made of the pro-Khalistan sympathies of certain Canadian politicians. The facts are somewhat more sombre. Much of the Sikh Diaspora's concerns have to do with a perceived lack of justice in India following the anti-Sikh violence of 1984. 

The Operation Bluestar and the decades of national narrative that painted Sikhs as separatists, the culture of fake encounters, the extra-ordinary powers enjoyed by a police force that is virtually unaccountable, the abominable role of the state-backed human rights commissions, the obstinacy of the Indian state to revisit the atrocities and fix responsibility, and the near political consensus over letting the past be past -- all of this ensured that generations of Sikhs and many right thinking people of India and elsewhere remained very sceptical about India's claims of being a democracy.

Time heals. Unfortunately, it also solidifies distances, and normalises cynicism.
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For a man who signed the Amritsar Declaration and remained wedded to the Akali Dal's politics revolving around Anandpur Sahib Resolution, it was quite a journey for Amarinder Singh cold shouldering Justin Trudeau or refusing to meet Harjit Singh Sajjan.
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Northern America now has a significant population of Sikhs, with a younger demographic that was born and brought up there. They are well versed with the progressive discourse about civil liberties and human rights, and they are well aware of their own contemporary history. These are the people who ask difficult questions, and they look upon Indian politicians and political parties as stakeholders who let them down.
 

Unlike India, they have umbrellas like the First Amendment of the United States under which they can raise difficult questions without being branded separatists, secessionists, or worse, terrorists. In India, these terms are used like synonyms.

They live in a country where Quebec can seek independence and force a referendum. They live in a country where Trudeau is asked if he did indeed make a disparaging reference about the freedom movement in Quebec and the prime minister loses no time in calling Amarinder Singh a liar, effectively.

The idea of a student asking his academic guide, a professor of political science, if Khalistan could have survived as a viable country, given the geo-strategic realities in the region and from an economic view point, is taken as confirmation of the young student having separatist ideology -- a perfect ruse for the local SHO to pick him up and administer some time-tested police dose. 

Unsurprisingly, it works. Our students hardly ask any questions, a fact top academicians often bemoan. Those who ask can be branded. Try asking any question about how and when India became a nation state, or cow became holy, or why dalits remain where they are, or why BJP does not give a ticket to any Muslim, or why the Akali Dal, a party that claims to represent a minority, does not raise its voice when powerful people in the government openly spew hate speech against Muslims, and you will be branded.
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BJP’s Ram Madhav travelled to Canada for a meeting with separatist Sikh groups, arranged by UK-based Jasdev Singh Rai of the Sikh Human Rights Group, in November 2016. Rai was to join Madhav again in Toronto but Ottawa never allowed that to happen. BJP has been miffed since then, and wanted to deliver a snub. Amarinder Singh acted as the courier boy, with a Mera Bharat Mahan placard.
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They are not branded in Canada. So they ask questions. It is not a discourse that New Delhi likes. It moves on two fronts: first is to open direct, behind-the-scenes links with these so called separatist elements, an exercise it undertook under the BJP regime in 2016 which it successfully kept under wraps. To remind you, even Jasdev Singh Rai kept it under wraps. When that did not work, it fired the other cannon, with Amarinder Singh happily playing the Centre's fiddle.

THE 2016 Khalistani-BJP Talks Initiative

As the Hindustan Times of February 22, 2018 brought out in a sensational expose, BJP's top pointsman Ram Madhav opened talks with leadership of separatist Sikhs elements among the Diaspora in 2016.

Journalists Rezaul H Laskar and Prashant Jha, well respected for their credible journalism, wondered if possible intervention by Canadian Sikh politicians, including Harjit Singh Sajjan, to sabotage the talks could be the reason behind the frosty reception accorded to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to India.

It now turns out that Ram Madhav travelled to Canada for a meeting with Sikh groups, arranged by UK-based Jasdev Singh Rai of the Sikh Human Rights Group, in November 2016. Rai was to join Madhav again in Toronto because the US Sikh leaders had agreed to meet the BJP leader only if Rai participated in the talks.

Rai, who had travelled to Canada at least 25 times, always used to keep the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in the loop about his contacts with the Sikh groups, but this time, Canada did not clear his visa.

As a result, Ram Madhav kept waiting for him in Toronto, while the Sikh groups refused to meet him for talks in the absence of Rai. It was a mission that failed, and the BJP considers Harjit Sajjan and his ilk responsible for not letting Rai join the talks. Rai has confirmed it. 

"Trudeau should stop pretending that he is defending freedom of expression of Khalistanis and come clean that his government has obstructed the peace dialogue process between the Modi Government and Sikh separatists,” Rai was quoted by the HT as saying.

New Delhi wanted to deliver a targetted snub. Modi not receiving Trudeau at the airport, or even tweeting about his arrival, fits into a pattern. 

Given the current bonhomie between Amarinder and Modi government, it is inconceivable that Amarinder would create a problem for New Delhi by threatening not to meet or welcome Trudeau. Also, there’s always that Enforcement Directorate angle. 

Amarinder played hard, and later soft, in perfect sync with New Delhi, eventually meeting Trudeau and making much about handing over a list of people wanted for anti-India activities.

The Canadians, on their part, messed up their own India venture by extending an invitation for dinner to Jaspal Atwal, an Indian-origin businessman with ties to the Khalistan movement. 

Once back in Canada, Trudeau was quick to undo any damage he may have caused unwittingly by catering to the rhetoric about territorial integrity, and reminded everyone about Canada's glorious track record in protecting freedom of expression. It is clear that Trudeau returned to a domestic constituency of Sikhs rolling out the red carpet for him.
 

International media hardly served the purpose Amarinder had intended; in fact, the exact opposite happened.

Articles like these appeared in ranking newspapers. (Click the visuals to read these.)

 
In the process, the India, Canada relationship has been struck a bloody blow by a PM who hugs, and does not; tweets, or does not; and a CM who refuses to welcome, and then does.
 
But in the process, Amarinder Singh also succeeded in inspiring many articles in the western press that underlined India's poor track record in meting out justice to the Sikhs. Sample this little quote from Sunny Hundal's piece (https://goo.gl/Gj4ipS) in The Independent of UK:  

"Why have relations between India and Canada suddenly turned chilly? ... What really worries the Indian government is the prospect of Sikhs in Britain, Canada and the US getting into positions of power and challenging the abuse of Sikh civil rights in India. The Indian government mentions the revival of Sikh militancy in India too, but it is highly exaggerated. Among Indian elites there is palpable concern that Western foreign policy towards India will increasingly be shaped by Sikhs willing to challenge its interests. Hence the alarmist talk about Sikh separatism."

This is exactly the kind of talk Amarinder Singh wanted to nip in the bud when he had refused to meet Trudeau. Now he is being seen as standing on the other side of the saffron line. Pity the fact that he was someone who made a career out of resigning his Rajya Sabha seat in protest against Operation Bluestar.
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Given the current bonhomie between Amarinder and Modi government, it is inconceivable that Amarinder would create a problem for New Delhi by threatening not to meet or welcome Trudeau. Amarinder played hard, and later soft, in perfect sync with New Delhi. The choreography is outside the scope of Amarinder’s CMO. This is New Delhi at work.
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The fact that the Akali Dal has an alliance with the BJP is a mere technical truth. The Badals wanted to welcome Trudeau, but when Modi needed a minister at the tarmac at Amritsar airport, he did not ask Harsimrat Kaur Badal to do the honours, fielding Hardeep Puri, instead.

With all of this, Amarinder has permanently walked into the BJP fold. It does not matter in which party he is technically. It is the ideological journey that he has made – from putting his signatures on the Amritsar Declaration to emerging as the frontline fighter for Bharat Mata, becoming a leader who sticks out his neck against anyone trying to question India's human rights record, civil liberties, or territorial integrity, and wants the Army to be given a complete free hand and considers the resultant body bags as collateral damage. 

I am sure Amarinder still wants a medal for the major who used a Kashmiri as a human shield, but am not sure if he does not have a saffron coloured turban in his sartorial collection. Rahul Gandhi will be now better educated with the colour preferences of his man in Punjab.
 

Amarinder’s press release writers have more work at their hands, including claiming that Trudeau actually told lies after landing in Canada, that Amarinder Singh never signed the Amritsar Declaration, that he did not write those articles and has no difference of approach from his leader Rahul Gandhi, that he has always had much respect for his party’s newly anointed president, and that he does not have any plans to sport a saffron turban.  

You know, it may actually work, but then a reporter might ask him if he thinks universities in Punjab should station a tank at the entrance to evoke the sense of nationalism. Try guessing the answer of Amarinder Singh, the Congress leader!

Post Script: I hate to settle any argument using a tank, but then this was a cheap shot I could not resist. Your turn, press release writer!
 
 
 

(A version of this article appeared earlier on this website with the headline "DECONSTRUCTING TRUDEAU IN PUNJAB - A visit that helped Amarinder complete a journey. This is an updated version after Trudeau trashed Punjab government’s claims about referencing Quebec during his talks with Punjab CM. Updated throughout. – Ed.)   

 

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