Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, April 4, 2017.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan answers a question during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Tuesday, April 4, 2017.
Photo Credit: PC / Sean Kilpatrick

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan courts controversy on visit to India

Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s first visit to India as a member of cabinet is being overshadowed by controversy after a high-ranking Indian state official refused to meet him and accused Sajjan of being a sympathiser of a Sikh separatist movement.

Sajjan, who immigrated to Canada from India with his family when he was five years old, arrived in India today on a seven-day official visit to discuss defence and security cooperation, trade culture and innovation.

His itinerary involves meetings with Indian officials, including Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Busy itinerary

Sajjan, Canada’s first defence minister of Sikh origin, will also travel to Amritsar home to the Golden Temple, the spiritual and cultural centre for the Sikh religion, as well as visit Punjab state capital of Chandigarh and India’s largest metropolis, Mumbai.

In his native Punjab, Sajjan is expected to visit the Golden Temple and meet with representatives of civil society organisations. In Chandigarh, he will inaugurate the new office of Canada’s Consulate General in Punjab.

Two former Sikh soldiers, but no common ground
India’s ruling Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, right, speaks with then former chief minister of Punjab state Captain Amarinder Singh during an election rally at in Chabal some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Amritsar, India, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012.
India’s ruling Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, right, speaks with then former chief minister of Punjab state Captain Amarinder Singh during an election rally at in Chabal some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Amritsar, India, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. © Altaf Qadri

However, Sajjan will not be meeting with Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh, who like Sajjan is a Sikh and a former military man.

Amarinder Singh has accused Sajjan, a highly decorated Afghan war veteran and former Vancouver police officer, of being a “Khalistani sympathiser” and refused to meet him, according to reports in the Indian media. The Khalistan movement was a Sikh nationalist movement active in 1970s through to 1990s that sought to create a Sikh homeland, Khalistan, in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.

Sajjan’s spokesperson Renée Filiatrault confirmed that there are no meetings planned with 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 Defence,” Filiatrault said in an emailed statement.

Sajjan’s trip to India is focused on strengthening the long bilateral relationship between Canada and India, Filiatrault said.

Retaliation for Ontario’s recognition of Sikh genocide?

However, the Indian Express newspaper reports that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has accused the chief minister of being part of a “political conspiracy” hatched 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. The Indian government refuses to recognize the anti-Sikh massacres as genocide and estimates that 2,800 people died in the riots.

The news of the private member motion supported by all three political parties in the Legislative Assembly caused consternation in New Delhi.

“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 by Hindustan Times.

It’s unclear whether the issue of the Ontario motion will be raised by either Defence Minister Arun Jaitley or External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during their planned meetings with Sajjan.

However, in a carefully worded statement that did not use the word “genocide,” Sajjan’s spokesperson called the events of 1984 “clearly horrific and deeply regrettable.”

“Canada has expressed regret over the violence and loss of life that resulted from the 1984 Anti-Sikh Massacre in India,” said a statement by Filiatrault. “The importance of seeking justice for the victims should not be diminished.”

Settling personal scores with Canada?

In an interview with the Indian Express newspaper 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 in Hindustan Times, last April Canadian authorities denied a visa to Amarinder Singh, who was planning to visit Canada for meetings with influential Punjabi-Canadians in the run-up to the Punjab assembly elections.

“Harjit Sajjan is a Khalistani sympathiser,” the Times of India quoted the chief minister. “There are, in fact, five ministers in the Justin Trudeau government, I will not have any truck with them. These Khalistani sympathisers had prevailed upon the government to prevent my entry into Canada, where I wanted to go to meet my Punjabi brethren and not to campaign for elections.”

Officials at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Global Affairs Canada could not be reached for comment on Monday.

The AAP leader urged Amarinder Singh to reconsider his “unjustified statement borne out of petty considerations” and welcome Sajjan to Punjab as a state guest, the Indian Express reported.

As a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, Sajjan fought abroad to ensure and protect human rights around the world, said Filiatrault.

“The Indo-Canadian and Sikh community in Canada has made – and continues to make – major cultural, social, economic and political contributions to the pluralistic and multicultural mosaic that is Canada, and Minister Sajjan is proud to call himself both Indo-Canadian and Sikh,” she said‎.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in International, Politics

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*

One comment on “Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan courts controversy on visit to India
  1. Daniel Stumpf says:

    While this article was the most informative of any that I’ve seen, concerning Canada’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s first visit to India, it neglects one important fact, which changes ‘the calculus’ of the criticism directed towards him completely. According to the article entitled: “The Hindu Rashtra and Kashmir”, ‘The Plan’ there, at least as I read it, is to strip all Indians of their citizenship, except those who are Hindu. The link to the article is: http://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/opinion/story/245660.html