First Sikh Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan is on an official, seven-day tour to India that started on April 17 and ends April 23. Sajjan is also the Member of Parliament for Vancouver South. He will inaugurate a Canadian consulate office in Chandigarh, India, on April 21.
Canada’s first Punjab-born Sikh Minister of National Defense Harjit Singh Sajjan has hit the Indian soil on a rough patch. The Member of Parliament for Vancouver South, reached Punjab on Wednesday with no state representative receiving him at the Amritsar airport. The state’s response comes in the wake of Punjab’s Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh calling Sajjan a “Khalistani sympathizer.”
Sajjan, 46, comes to Punjab after meeting his Indian counterpart, Defense Minister Arun Jaitley, and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in Delhi, earlier this week.
The visiting Minister is here to push for better bilateral relations between Canada and India. He also expressed that the Canadian defense companies are interested in doing business with India. After visiting his native village near Hoshiarpur, Punjab, on Thursday, Sajjan would inaugurate a consulate office in Chandigarh on Friday.
Sajjan comes at a time after Canada’s Ontario province passed a motion that identified the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in India as a “genocide,” earlier this month. Following which, the Indian government expressed displeasure over Canada’s take on the massacre in the aftermath of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Reportedly, Jaitley had told Sajjan that the motion raised and passed by Canada’s Ontario province on April 6 was “unreal and exaggerated.” In response, Sajjan distanced himself from the issue saying that it was a provincial government’s decision; thus, does not reflect views of the federal government. During a conference call with the news media representatives in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sajjan said, “We had to remind my counterparts [in India] that, one, (the Ontario Legislature) is a provincially, democratically-elected body. . .” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported him saying, “It was a private member’s motion. The Liberal Party of Ontario is not the deferral Liberal Party.”
The 1984 massacre against Sikhs in India was passed as “genocide” in Canada, two weeks back.
On April 6, the legislative assembly of the province of Ontario recognized the 1984 Sikh massacre as a genocide. Sikh Canadian Harinder Malhi, a Liberal member of provincial parliament (MPP) from Brampton, Springdale, moved the motion. Malhi opened her proposal in the House saying, “That, in the opinion of this House, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, should reaffirm our commitment to the values we cherish – justice, human rights and fairness – and condemn all forms of communal violence, hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in India and anywhere else in the world including the 1984 Genocide perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India.”
Malhi, whose constituency is 40 percent South Asian, presented instances of atrocities committed on Sikh Indians in Delhi and other parts of India, in 1984. During her 12-minute presentation, she narrated several instances related to the anti-Sikh riots. Mentioning a Sikh Canadian Balbir Singh who comes from Trilokpuri (Delhi, India), Malhi said, “His father was killed by a mob. He escaped by wearing women’s clothes. Even now, Balbir is afraid to reveal that he is a Sikh. He is still scared of growing his hair long and wearing a turban.”
This year’s motion, however, was not the first to be introduced regarding the 1984 massacre. The issue was discussed on June 2, 2016, too. That time, the proposal was moved by Bramalea-Gore-Malton. They pushed for Ontario government‘s recognition that the “November 1984 state-organized violence perpetrated against the Sikhs throughout India as a genocide.” But, the House unanimously voted against the motion.
The November 1984 anti-Sikh riots happened when two Sikh bodyguards killed India’s former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Several Sikhs lost their lives in the heinous actions that continued for almost a week. The official figures say that nearly 3000 Sikhs were killed in six days.
During this year’s motion in Ontario, Jagmeet Singh (NDP), another member of legislative assembly, mentioned how people are muffled in India, to silence their dissent. “Today in India, currently, academics, journalists and actors are being charged and imprisoned simply for voicing their dissent or their concerns about the state, people like Aamir Khan, a famous Bollywood actor who simply raised a concern about the rising intolerance in India, and was charged with sedition,” Singh told the House.
Eventually, the motion was passed unanimously with 34 to 5 votes.
Punjab’s Chief Minister’s unequivocal refusal to meet Sajjan; and the “Khalistani sympathizer” row.
On April 13, just days before Sajjan’s India tour, Punjab’s Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh sparked a row by refusing to meet Sajjan. Amarinder Singh said that the Canadian Minister is a “Khalistani sympathizer” in the Justin Trudeau government in Canada. The Punjab’s premier said that he does not want to associate himself with any “Khalistani sympathizer.” Khalistan movement refers to the demand of a separate Sikh nation by some sections of Sikhs.
Amarinder Singh added that Sajjan’s father, Kundan Singh Sajjan, too, supports the Khalistani movement. Sajjan, who left India at age five, denied all accusations. While speaking at an event in New Delhi on Tuesday, Sajjan broke his silence, “I don’t promote the breaking up of any country . . . My job is to promote the bilateral relations.”
Sajjan said at the packed gathering hosted by think-tank Observer Research Organization that he does not want to get entangled into the internal politics of any province or nation. While Sajjan’s father refused to respond to Amarinder Singh’s accusations, the Canadian High Commission in Delhi responded by calling Amarinder Singh’s comments “both disappointing and inaccurate.”
The Punjab CM, however, held his ground and went further by stating that he can produce evidence to corroborate his statement. “My decision [to not meet Sajjan] is based on these reports. He will be provided security as per protocol but I will not be meeting him,” Punjab premier said in a news statement on Friday, April 15.
Sajjan, though, has expressed that he is open to meet Amarinder Singh if the latter agrees. With Sajjan leaving for Canada on Sunday, April 23, the possibilities that Amarinder Singh would agree to meet Sajjan are slim.