Canada’s defense minister Harjit Sajjan visits India and controversy erupts over Khalistan
NEW DELHI (Diya TV) — Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan arrived in India for his first visit as a member of cabinet, but the trip is being overshadowed by controversy over Khalistan(a separate Sikh state), and Punjab’s Chief Minister has called Sajjan of being a sympathizer of the Sikh separatist movement.
Sajjan, who immigrated to Canada from India with his family at the age of five, arrived in India Monday on a seven-day official visit to discuss defense and security cooperation, trade culture and innovation. His itinerary involves meetings with Indian officials, including Defense Minister Arun Jaitley and India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Sajjan is Canada’s first Defense Minister of Sikh origin, is also scheduled to visit Amritsar home to the Golden Temple, the spiritual and cultural center for the Sikh religion, as well as visit Punjab state capital of Chandigarh and Mumbai. In Chandigarh, he will inaugurate the new office of Canada’s Consulate General in Punjab.
However, Sajjan will not be meeting with this official from his hometown of Punjab. Chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who like Sajjan is a Sikh and a former military man, has called Sajjan, a highly decorated war veteran and former Vancouver police officer, of being a “Khalistani sympathizer” and refused to meet him, according to reports in the Indian media.
According to Sajjan’s spokesperson Renée Filiatrault, there are no meetings scheduled between the two on the trip, or with any Punjab state officials.
“Minister Sajjan is a proud Canadian, with a lifetime of service to Canada, as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces, a member of the Vancouver Police Department, and now as the MP for Vancouver South and as Canada’s Minister of National Defense,” Filiatrault said in an emailed statement to Radio Canada International.
According to the Indian Express, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has accused Punjab’s chief minister Amarinder Singh of being part of a “political conspiracy” concocted by the Congress Party in retaliation for the April 6 motion by the Ontario provincial legislature to officially recognize the Sikh genocide carried out by the Congress-led Indian government in 1984.
Thousands of Sikhs were killed in the anti-Sikh riots that followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards. According many Sikhs, the Indian government’s stance to categorize the events of 1984 as ‘civil unrest’ and ‘riots’ is a refusal to recognize the anti-Sikh massacres as genocide and some estimate that 2,800 people died in the riots. However, in 2014, according to the Washington Post the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi made a promise to investigate the events and call what occurred a ‘genocide’ even describing it as “a dagger through India’s chest.”
But the recent visit of the Canadian Defense Minister has brought the controversy back into spotlight. “We reject this misguided motion which is based on a limited understanding of India, its constitution, society, ethos, rule of law and the judicial process,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times. The Ministry is now controlled by the ruling party, BJP which beat the Congress Party when Narendra Modi was elected Prime Minister.
In a statement that did not use the word “genocide,” Sajjan’s spokesperson called the events of 1984 “clearly horrific and deeply regrettable.”
In an interview with the Indian Express, Punjab AAP Chief Whip Sukhpal Singh Khaira accused the chief minister of “settling personal scores with Canada for not granting him permission to visit its soil for politicking and collecting funds.”
According to a report from the Hindustan Times, Canadian authorities denied a visa to Amarinder Singh last April, who was planning to visit Canada for meetings with influential Punjabi-Canadians in the run-up to the Punjab assembly elections.
Information from Radio Canada International contributed to this report.