OPINION
Deconstructing Trudeau in Punjab
A visit that helped Amarinder complete a journey
- S Pal
A visit that helped Amarinder complete a journey



PUNJAB CHIEF MINISTER Amarinder Singh finally did throw a spanner in Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau's India visit plans, and while he did meet the dignitary, the Congress leader 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.

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.

Between Narendra Modi and 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?
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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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Amarinder Singh, of course. Modi and Shah consider Rahul Gandhi too important and invariably focus their attacks on him. It was Amarinder who wanted Rahul Gandhi to wait.

In 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 a die-hard Bajrang Dal leader 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.
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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 Paistani 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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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 Umer 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 skeptical 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 under which they can raise difficult questions without being branded separatists, secessionists, or worse, terrorists. In India, these terms are used like synonyms.
 

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 conformation 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. 
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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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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.

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. 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.
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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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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. 

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 Trudeau is back in Canada, he can undo the damage by issuing a couple of statements about his country's track record on the freedom of speech. In fact, with his Indian visit ending in a train-wreck, Trudeau would be going back smiling to a domestic constituency of Sikhs rolling out the red carpet for him. 

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.

The fact that 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.

But 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.
 

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Comment by: Kanwaljeet Singh

Brilliantly put. Amrinder singh is technically in congress but being more useful to the Right wing than, technically, its actual partner. But, it should also be noted that it is not only Amrendra singh, is not congress' soft hindutva posture, on nearly all issues where it was expected to contrast up, itself creating a room for nearly everybody who sees majority as toned with a nationalist wash, to drift into this powerful current of right? This also must be analyzed, maybe in some other peice. Thanks

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